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Prof. Jones to head Black American Studies

James M. Jones, professor of psychology
5:09 p.m., May 18, 2005--James M. Jones, professor of psychology, has been appointed as the new director of the University of Delaware’s Black American Studies Program (BAMS) with plans to strengthen the program and faculty and a goal of providing a major in the field.

The appointment will be effective Sept. 1 when Jones will take over for acting director Howard B. Johnson, Alumni Distinguished Professor of History and Black American Studies.

In announcing his appointment, Provost Dan Rich described Jones as a nationally renowned scholar and an outstanding teacher who is well-respected by colleagues across the campus. “Under his leadership, the Black American Studies Program will be strengthened and expanded; more faculty from more academic units will contribute to the program and more students will benefit.”

“Prof. Jones is a distinguished member of the University's faculty, and we are all delighted that he has agreed to lead the program in Black American Studies. We are confident that his leadership will evidence the innovation and intelligence that are characteristic of all of his activities,” President David P. Roselle said.

“The Black American Studies Program is important to the University of Delaware community, and I want it to attain a stature and presence consistent with that fact,” Jones said. “I want the program to be dynamic, innovative, interesting and welcoming. I also want it to be an opportunity center for scholarship, teaching and service for the UD community.”

While the program is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, Jones said he believes “it has a larger role to play in the University and the greater Delaware community.”

Jones said he would like the program to gain increased visibility both on campus and nationwide. “I would like UD’s Black American Studies Program to be a beacon that draws people to it. I want people to ask, ‘How can I get involved? How can I participate and contribute?’”

Jones said he would like to see the program develop a coherent research and scholarship focus. He also would like to see it build connections for study and research opportunities with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as universities throughout the African Diaspora, including the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America.

Furthermore, Jones said he believes the program should have closer connections to the Paul R. Jones Collection for programming and sponsored research opportunities. The Paul R. Jones Collection is one of the nation’s foremost collections of works by 20th Century African American artists and was a gift to UD from Atlanta businessman Paul R. Jones.

Jones said he would like to see the BAMS program develop “a curriculum that expands to become relevant to career paths across the social and behavioral sciences, as well as arts and humanities.”

To accomplish that, he said he would like to build a strong core of faculty within the program and a strong and active group of affiliated faculty across the University who play an important part in the program.

A major goal, Jones said, is to develop a major in Black American Studies. Currently, only a minor is offered.

He said a major “must be developed carefully, with a clear focus on the demand. Wanting a major and populating a major are two different things. We need to assess the needs and interests of students and their parents and how we might structure a major that would meet them.”

Jones said he suspects that a major would generally be associated with a minor in a related social and behavioral science or an arts and humanities discipline.

“There should be multiple ways for students to engage the Black American Studies curriculum,” Jones said, citing a major, a minor with a major in another field, a dual major as well as enrollment in courses to meet general education or multicultural requirements.

“I'd also like to see an honors option within Black American Studies to attract and support our strongest students,” Jones said. “With all of these options, we can provide a significant educational opportunity for UD students.”

Although Jones has a broad outline for advancement of the program, he said he will develop specific goals and plans in collaboration with the core BAMS faculty and affiliated faculty.

Jones praised the work of the program's founding director, James E. Newton, professor of Black American Studies. "Jim Newton has done an important service to the students and the University in his role as founding director of BAMS," Jones said. "My aim is to build on the groundwork he laid."

However, Jones said he believes the program “has been neglected over the years, and this cumulative neglect has taken a toll.”

He said the program “is by and large invisible on this campus. Many faculty are unaware of it and students often are either unaware or skeptical of its utility in their career plans. There is a core of folks to build around, a tremendous need to revitalize the program and a lot of work needed to move it forward.”

Jones said he had to think carefully about whether or not to accept the position of director. “My initial position was that I would only consider it if there was clear and significant commitment to supporting Black American Studies and helping to make it grow,” he said. “I engaged in discussions and negotiations about the need to revitalize the program and what kind of leadership role I could play in that process. I decided to accept the position because I felt there were strong intellectual assets in the University that would support a revitalized program, there was sufficient evidence of commitment by the University to support and strengthen the program, and it was a challenge to me to take on the leadership role in this effort.”

Jones received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and his master’s degree from Temple University, and he earned a doctorate from Yale University. After graduating from Yale, he taught at Harvard University for six years and won a Guggenheim Fellowship to study humor in Trinidad and Tobago in 1973. He joined the faculty of UD in 1982.

Jones is the author of the psychology textbook, Prejudice and Racism, a landmark work on the subject, and is active in the American Psychological Association.

Article by Neil Thomas
Photo by Kevin Quinlan

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