December 3, 2001
FROM THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION
TO LAUNCH FIVE COLLEGE AFRICAN STUDIES RESIDENCIES
while invigorating U.S. scholarship and teaching on Africa
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-Citing a need to
strengthen African universities while transforming the field
of African studies in the United States, the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation has awarded Smith College a five-year, $1 million
grant to support a Five College residency program for African
scholars in the early stages of their academic careers.
Through the program as many as five
junior faculty members each year from universities across the
African continent will take up residency at Amherst, Hampshire,
Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges, as well as the University of
Massachusetts; each will spend from four to nine months on one
of the campuses engaged in a "learning sabbatical."
The residencies, which are expected to begin in the spring of
2003, will allow the scholars time and resources to complete
a significant research and writing project, develop contacts
with other colleagues in related fields, participate in national
conferences, and explore other areas of possible interest, including
the use of technology in research and teaching.
"Just when Africa needs better educated citizens to fully engage the challenges of globalization, its higher education system is in crisis," observed Elliot Fratkin, associate professor of anthropology at Smith and the current chair of the Five College African Studies Council. Fratkin pointed to declining government support, rising student populations and political and economic upheaval as factors contributing to the post-Cold War "brain drain" in African universities, particularly among young faculty members embarking on scholarly careers.
At the same time, U.S. scholars say,
there is significant room within the field of African studies
for new ideas, new research approaches and informed, indigenous
voices to make U.S.-based scholarship on Africa stronger and
more reflective of contemporary realities.
"There is an immediate need to
build stable bridges to Africa, across which new scholarship
can be shared-and created jointly," explained Nate Therien,
director for academic programs at Five Colleges, Inc.
Therien pointed out that students at
the participating institutions will benefit from exposure to
a range of scholars and new research on Africa, while faculty
will have a chance to "rethink their own research and teaching
in light of new perspectives brought by the visiting scholars."
Each year the program will seek to assemble a cross-disciplinary,
cross-regional group of scholars with shared interest in a broad
theme, such as youth in Africa, globalization or gender, health
and the environment.
A key element of the program is the
development of the visiting scholars as potential leaders in
the revival of Africa's higher education system. It is expected
that they will return to their home institutions as published
scholars with links to a larger scholarly community within Africa
and outside it. One goal of the program is to sustain continuing
connection among residents-and among residents and Five College
colleagues-once the residents return to Africa. These connections
will be fostered through access to Internet connections, publication
of a virtual newsletter and support for attendance at conferences
in Africa and the United States. The grant also includes support
for sharing technical expertise at the five colleges with the
residents' home institutions.
"Through the residencies and ongoing connections, the visiting scholars will return to their universities strengthened as scholars," noted John Connolly, acting president of Smith College, which has pledged $200,000 in additional start-up funds for the residencies.