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Molefi Asante: Strategic Planning at Temple University of Africology & African/American Studies

By Ugorji O. Ugorji

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Molefi Asante and Strategic Planning at Temple University’s Department of Africology and African American Studies

Recognized by his peers as one of the most influential and most cited scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries, Professor Molefi Kete Asante has authored over 80 books and written over 550 published articles in several fields of social science. He is also the founder and head of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies (see www.mkainstitute.com). 

In 1984, Professor Asante and his colleagues in the Department of African American Studies (herein referred to AAS Department) at Temple University set out to accomplish the improbable – the establishment of the first doctorate degree (Ph.D.) awarding program in any university in the United States. Temple University is located in the City of Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love), in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Asante is a professor of African and African American Studies and was the Chairman of the department at the time (Asante, 2017). 

The author, Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji

On November 12, 2017, Professor Asante granted me an interview in the City of Philadelphia. The interview and a reporting of it, was in fulfilment of an assignment in Strategic Planning and Budgeting, a course in the Master’s Degree program in Homeland Security, at George Washington University, Washington, DC. During the encounter, Professor Asante discussed the elements of strategic planning that was involved in the accomplishment of a historic feat in academia – the establishment of the first doctorate degree (Ph.D.) awarding program.

Temple’s AAS Department and the “ABC” module of Strategic Planning 

According to Bryson (2011, p. 11), there is an ABC module to strategic planning. The module is composed of “Where you are (A); Where you want to be (B), and How to get there (C).” Asante shared with me where the African American Studies Department at Temple was in 1984. “We were a program, with four faculty members, that was awarding a Bachelor’s degree in African American Studies.” According to him, where they wanted to be was “to educate and train graduate students at the level of a terminal degree.” And how to get from where they were to where they wanted to be became “the proposal and struggle to establish the first PhD program in African American Studies in the nation,” (Ugorji, 2017).

The Public Value of a Ph.D. program in African American Studies

Moore (1995) had the seminal concept that organization’s mission and purpose, especially for public and nonprofit entities, is to add or “create public value.” Moore suggests that the mission and purpose of an organization must (1) be “substantially valuable in the sense that the organization produces things of value..; (2) be “legitimate and politically sustainable,” and (3) be “operationally and administratively feasible in that the authorized, valuable activities can actually be accomplished by the existence of the organization…” Moore refers to this as the “strategic triangle.” 

According to Asante, there were two general areas in which the proposed doctorate degree added public value, beyond the general value of public education. “Academically, there was no program anywhere in the nation where you could get a terminal degree in African or African American studies; where you declare competence to the extent that you would be able to train other people. So the academic value was in us being able to gather the information and knowledge, put it together in one place, and deliver it to students.” 

The second value, Asante said was “socio-political” in nature. “This had to do with the impact of the program as a demonstration of social responsibility by Temple University. For a community or urban area like Philadelphia, it was essential that there should be a PhD program – the program exemplified the university’s sense of responsibility to the environment in which it was located.”

Temple’s AAS Department and the Stakeholders (Internal and External)

Bryson (2011) suggested that a stakeholder analysis is important in the development of missions and strategic plans. Asante reported that there were several groups of Stakeholders (not necessarily in the following order): Faculty Peers; University Administrators, Students; and Political and Civic leaders in the City and in the state.

In the Faculty Peers category, the first stakeholders were the existing four faculty members in the department (which included Asante as the chair). Beyond the department, there were faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences where the department was located. The Graduate Studies Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences had to be convinced of the merit and viability of elevating the program to the status of awarding PhDs in the field of study.

The Administrators category included the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Academic Vice President, the Provost, and the President of the university. And ultimately, there was the Board of Trustees of the university, which was the final authority in the process of approval. Surprising to me was Asante’s report that the President of the University at the time was a prime mover of the idea. “President Peter J. Liacouras, in fact, said that not only should Temple have a PhD program in African American Studies, but that we should have the best in the nation,” Asante said.

The Student category of stakeholders referred to not just the students who were enrolled in the undergraduate program of the department, but minority students on campus in general. Asante recalls that the Black Student Union at the university was informed about the plan and that they enthusiastically provided student support.

Among the Political and Civic Society Leaders category of stakeholders were Mr. Sam Evans, “the recognized leader of the Black community in Philadelphia at the time – a gentleman who held no political office, but one who pulled most of the strings of the politicians” according to Asante; Ms. Lilian Greene, president of the York Town Home Association – a civic association that controlled the area where Temple University’s main campus is built; Dwight Evans, who was the head of the Budget Committee of the Pennsylvania Assembly at the time (and now a US Congressman); and Dave Richardson, who was a state representative and the leader of the national organization of state legislators. Asante met with, sought and received support from these and other leaders in the community.

Temple’s AAS Department and SWOT/C Analysis

According to Fallon (2017) “SWOT analyses can serve as a precursor to any sort of company action, such as exploring new initiatives, making decisions about new policies, identifying possible areas for change, or refining and redirecting efforts mid-plan.” 

Asante said that the department had to submit a formal proposal for the PhD program to the faculty and the university administrators. The proposal detailed the “How to get there” aspect of the ABCs of strategic planning. In 1988 the department’s proposal received the final approval – that of the university’s Board of Trustees.

In order to put together the proposal, Asante reports that he and his colleagues in the department went through an analysis that they did not call SWOT/C at the time. “However, we still had to understand and articulate the strengths we saw in our program, as well as the areas where we were not as strong and needed help,” he said. 

According to Asante, the three main strengths they had in the department at the time were (1) leadership, as evident in his role as chair of the department and the fact that he had already trained over 25 PhDs and supervised as many dissertations in the field of Communications at other universities before he was hired by Temple University; (2) The department was anchored on the theory of Afrocentricity, which although controversial, made the department and its curriculum unique in the field of African American studies and at the university; and (3) Enthusiastic student support.  

Chief among the weaknesses they had to address in their proposal were (1) Small faculty of only four within the department at the time; (2) Meager financial resources to attract additional quality faculty and to support students in the program; and (3) Limited facilities to house the program once it is expanded. 

In terms of opportunities, the most glaring one was the fact that there was no PhD-awarding program in African American Studies in the nation at the time. To succeed with establishing the first one at Temple University, would provide an added attraction to the university. “When the program was approved, the university told us to expect 8 applications to the PhD program in 1988. We received over 500 applications in that first year and we accepted only 35. We became the largest PhD program, in terms of numbers of students, at Temple University” Asante reported. 

The challenges were many, according to Asante. “Our first immediate challenge was to overcome the opposition and resistance of the Department of Sociology, and the History Department of the university. Both Departments said it would not happen. Both departments were in the same College of Arts and Sciences of the university. The chair of the Sociology Department at the time said that it would be over her dead body that she would see a PhD program in African American Studies at Temple.” While Asante considered the theoretical framework of Afrocentricity a strength, he acknowledged that the perception of others outside the department and the critique of the theory by scholars in the field presented a challenge, albeit one that he and his colleagues welcomed.

A Vision of Success

Since the inception of the PhD program in African American studies in 1987/1988, the department has awarded 167 doctorate degrees of 2017, Asante reported, with the very first one going to a homeboy (Nigerian) named Dr. Coker in 1990. There are now 16 other departments in the US (including at Harvard University and Yale University) that offer PhDs in African American Studies, but Asante said that “we have awarded more PhDs in African American Studies than all the other 16 institutions combined.”

In reaction to the needs of students, the Department has recently changed its name to the Department of Africology and African American Studies. This was done to accommodate the reality that the program’s focus and scholarship transcended African American studies to include the study of phenomena among African people, as agents and subjects of knowledge.

Asante concluded the interview by asserting that the future in African and African American studies “belongs to us at Temple. The future belongs to those departments and programs that have a theoretical base.” The graduates from the program are now professors in institutions around the world and have published over 200 books, Asante reported. 

References

Asante.net (2017). Dr. Molefi Kete Asante. Retrieved on November 15, 2017 from http://www.asante.net/biography/

Asante. Molefi Kete (1983). Afrocentricity. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc.

Bryson, John M. (2011). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement (4th edition). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Fallon, Nicolle (2017, March 28). SWOT analysis: What it is and when to use it. Business News Daily. Retrieved on November 2, 2017 from http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4245- swot-analysis.html

George Washington University (2017). Mission and vision. In Strategic Planning and Budgeting (PSHS 6250). Retrieved on October 31, 2017 from file:///C:/Users/Dr.%20Ugorji/Documents/GWU%20PSHS%206250-m2-mission-and- vision.pdf

Moore, Mark H. (1995). Creating public value: Strategic management in government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ugorji, Ugorji O. (2017, November 12). Strategic planning in Temple University’s first-in-the- nation PhD program in African American studies: An interview with professor Molefi Kete Asante. Talldrums

The author, Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji, is the Executive Director of African Writers Endowment, Inc. and Global Coordinator of GoBigNigeria.com. He completed the Master’s degree program in Homeland Security at George Washington University in May, 2019. A former Ralph Bunche Fellow of Amnesty Internal, Ugorji is currently a Consultant with the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy, and Development (SCDDD), and a Senior Fellow at the Ken Nnamani Centre for Leadership and Development, both of which are located in Abuja, Nigeria.

The author, Dr. Ugorji Okechukwu Ugorji

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