Eight months after University President Mary Sue Coleman returned from a two-week trip to southern Africa, the University celebrated the creation of a new African Studies Center with a reception Monday night.
“The University of Michigan aspires to engage globally … through personal experiences, through the contributions of our students, faculty and staff,” Coleman said at the reception. “I firmly believe that the African Studies Center will help us accelerate those connections.”
The ASC, which officially launched in July, is now working with universities in Ghana and South Africa with which the University already has ties. But Kelly Askew, interim director of the ASC and an associate professor in the Afroamerican and African studies and anthropology departments, said she hopes the center will eventually work with universities across sub-Saharan Africa.
The Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, one of the 18 area studies centers that comprise the International Institute, facilitates research and exchange in northern Africa.
International Institute Director Mark Tessler co-chaired a committee that assessed the University’s Africa-related work and called for the creation of the ASC last year. He said one of center’s main goals is to help develop the faculty and resources at African universities.
The Center’s work, so far, is organized around three initiatives. One focuses on “heritage studies,” another on strengthening social research capacity at African institutions and the third on aiding young faculty members at African universities.
The main components of the first two initiatives will be major conferences in South Africa and Ghana, the first of which will take place next summer.
Tessler, a professor at the Institute for Social Research, is one of three faculty members leading the social research initiative. He said the long-term goal of the program was to build a system of strong social research centers that could share information both with each other and the University of Michigan.
“It’s not about working with any particular institution, any particular university, but a wide range of universities,” he said.
As part of the third initiative, center staff — so far Askew and two others — is reviewing applications from Ghanaian and South African professors. Ten of the 45 applicants will be selected to do research at the University of Michigan next semester. Askew said faculty in Africa often have to take on a full teaching load before they finish their doctoral work and never have the opportunity to complete that research.
Coleman praised the ASC’s potential to aid faculty this way.
“If there’s anything I learned on this trip, it is the deep desire and hunger and need of young, African faculty for the opportunity to come and take a little break from the hard work that they’re doing to help build their own institutions,” Coleman said. “I’m very proud of this program because I really do think that we’re going to be meeting a really great need for the building of these African universities.”