How Do You Dismantle Black Studies in 2016?: Use Academic Terrorism

08/11/2016 03:08 pm ET

Like Black communities in general, Black Studies is under siege. In fact, many administrators at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI’s) don’t want Black Studies departments or programs at their universities any more than they did in 1968. This is because PWI’s embrace the European Worldview; use a European pedagogy; and perpetuate racism and white privilege. Since administrators cannot openly dismantle Black Studies without public backlash, they’ve developed other methods to accomplish their goals. But, how’s this possible if there’s a Chancellor’s Executive Order and/or other legislation prohibiting it?

Most people are familiar with bullying; but, may not be aware of how incipient bullying is in the academy. In fact, articles on bullying have appeared in educational journals, and several books have been published on this topic. Workplace bullying can be defined as: “…repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s)” ( Bullying is committed by a person(s) who are jealous; have low self-esteem; are emotionally immature; have a negative spirit; and/or for career advancement.

Now, imagine you’re a Black Studies professor at a university that wants to eliminate your department. Since they cannot overtly dismantle your department without drawing too much attention, administrators use extreme bullying to force your resignation. Then, they refuse to hire any new faculty, slowly dismantling Black Studies. Therefore, a new term is needed when discussing behaviors in academia that go beyond bullying: academic terrorism.

The term academic terrorism is not new and has been used to discuss: the war against school gifted programs; students in Pakistan being threatened for their political beliefs; university instructors in Ghana forcing students to purchase their self-authored textbooks; and the pressure for students to achieve in India. But, I have yet to see it used to describe extreme bullying towards Black Studies faculty at PWI’s.

Domestic terrorism: “Involves acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” ( Even though every aspect of this definition doesn’t apply, academic terrorism is when Black Studies faculty are forced to think through every action for fear it’ll be used against them through disciplinary action, the denial of tenure/promotion, and/or termination. These acts are usually public to ensure that faculty know if they step outside the boundaries, they’ll also be persecuted. Eventually, this takes a toll because they’re operating in a state of terror every day. Professors who’ve experienced academic terrorism reported illnesses, nightmares, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and psychological issues including PTSD

Examples include: being afraid to use the bathroom during your office hours because someone might report your absence to the chair or the Dean; anonymously voting in a faculty meeting, and the chair or the Dean requiring you to explain your vote; being in a meeting or sending a private email, and what you said and wrote is reported to the chair or the Dean; when the chair or the Dean force your colleagues not to speak to you; and when the chair or the Dean take over the schedule of classes and schedule courses at times that don’t work for the students, setting up the department to fail.

Academic terrorism also includes the denial of funding, reimbursement, support, equipment, and technology, thwarting any progress in the department. It goes beyond negative teaching evaluations and letters for retention, tenure, and promotion, although this also occurs. It’s using fear, intimidation, and coercion in every detail of your work so you’ll become overwhelmed and resign.

Universities are built on hierarchies and revolve around titles, positions, and credentials. Those committing academic terrorism usually have a higher rank, have been at the university longer, and have the university’s support. Because academic terrorism is institutionalized; it requires administrators to work together, making it difficult to dismantle.

Faculty who are targeted are usually: Black; working above their contractual expectations; student centered; outspoken; making change in society and on campus; and working in the best interest of all students. Academic terrorism isolates the targeted faculty member to feel alone. They blame themselves, and don’t know who to trust. Often, when a professor fights back, they’re accused of bullying by the same individuals who are terrorizing them, making things even worse.

Unfortunately, some Black Studies professors have been seduced by Eurocentric administrators, and instead of fighting against racism, they support it. They sell out their colleagues for favors, special treatment, and career advancement. This means a professor might not only experience academic terrorism from administration, but also from their chair and/or their colleagues.

University officials want all issues resolved internally, and will suggest you speak with Faculty Affairs and/or Equity and Diversity. However, administrators know that academic terrorism is difficult to prove. It’s also possible that these offices are working in conjunction with the administrators who’re terrorizing you. Then, what?

Professors can always go to the union and file grievances since academic terrorism violates any collective bargaining agreement. But, what if there’s no union?

So, how do we eliminate academic terrorism? We first have to talk about it, especially since it’s affecting Black Studies professors across the country. We must also lean on the elders who’ve experienced similar issues throughout their careers, and urge them to protect the junior faculty. It’s easy to dismantle a department or discipline that’s fragmented, but more difficult to dismantle one that’s unified. Lastly, we must remember that a university’s attitude towards Black Studies is representative of their overall attitude towards Black people. Thus, we must be honest with the Black students and Black community regarding our struggles with academic terrorism, and recruit them to fight with us. This sends a message to any university that regardless of their tactics, Black Studies isn’t going anywhere.


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