In another move representing the University’s increased focus on Africa, University President Mary Sue Coleman announced at last week’s Board of Regents meeting that the University would create a new African Studies Center in July.

Coleman will spend two weeks in Africa this month developing joint programs with African institutions.

The new center, which would be the 17th international and area studies center under the supervision of the University’s International Institute, aims to foster collaboration between the more than 120 University faculty members currently doing research related to Africa, said Kelly Askew, an associate professor of Afroamerican and African Studies who will be the center’s interim director when it launches.

Askew said the center will build heavily on the resources and initiatives currently available through the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, which was created 38 years ago.

The new center differs from CAAS because it focuses on research and does not offer classes. CAAS, a department within the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, offers classes for students and teaching positions for faculty.

Mark Tessler, director of the International Institute, said he hopes the ASC will be able to unite Africanists across campus, including those in graduate and professional schools.

Tessler helped take inventory of the research that the University’s faculty already conducts. He said the majority of the University’s work on Africa is done in sub-Saharan Africa, and that the focus of the center would likely reflect that. The University’s Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies already coordinates programs in North African countries.

Kevin Gaines, the director of CAAS, said the center would probably focus first on coordinating current research endeavors, and then launch new programs once it has a larger staff. Gaines said staff salaries and other expenses will be funded through the Provost’s Office until external funding sources are found.

Askew’s first task will be to find a new director for the center. The center’s officials will also organize a large conference for its inauguration. She said the conference would likely be held in winter 2009 and that smaller seminars and lecture series might also be held in the near future.

Along with holding conferences and bringing speakers to the University, the center would facilitate faculty exchange between the University and African institutions, Askew said. She said that CAAS has brought more than 40 faculty members from South African universities to Ann Arbor through the Charles Moody Exchange Scholars Program, which was established in 1996. She said the center’s goal is to increase that number and attract professors from other African countries.

On Friday, Coleman and 12 other University faculty members will travel to South Africa and Ghana for two weeks to build relationships with universities there. During that time, Coleman will meet with leaders of Universities in an effort to develop faculty exchange programs with them.

Askew said professors at African institutions usually don’t have the same resources that are provided at American institutions.

“By bringing them here, we’re helping them gain some of that access, which they can then take back and share with students and colleagues there,” she said.

“The focus is strengthening and enhancing academic excellence in Africa.”

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