UCA African American Studies Major Facing Termination

The program could be discontinued if enrollment numbers don’t improve.

Black University of Central Arkansas students smile and pose with their hands shaped like claws in honor of the UCA bears
Photo courtesy of the University of Central Arkansas African and African American Studies program.

The University of Central Arkansas has two years to increase the number of students graduating from its African and African American Studies bachelor of arts program or it could be terminated by the state. The Arkansas Department of Higher Education Coordinating Board reviews programs and those with low numbers of majors and graduates can be modified or discontinued. 

The UCA program has been under review for low enrollment and graduation numbers for the last three years, but ADHE is giving the university two more years to improve. A UCA spokesperson declined our request for an interview with an administrator, but did share an email president Houston Davis sent to faculty and staff Monday updating them on the status of the program.

“This extension of two years is very good news and does provide us with a path forward that will leverage the strong interdisciplinary commitment that exists within the college,” Davis said. “We look forward to an even stronger program and being able to continue to serve students with this important major.”

During those two years, the program will be monitored regularly. The college and program will produce quarterly reports on recruitment and enrollment efforts as well as declared majors and pending graduates.  

There are six students who have declared AAAS as a first or second major and seven students have declared a minor. The state requires bachelor’s programs graduate an average of six students annually over a three-year period. The UCA program has averaged 1.7 graduates a year from 2019 to 2021. UCA is the only university in Arkansas that offers African and African American Studies as a standalone major.

UCA graduate Kenneth Avery Jr. earned a minor in African and African American Studies in 2018 and said that impacted his decision to pursue a doctorate in Africology and African American Studies at Temple University. Avery had a good experience with UCA professors who were “really intentional about centering voices of people of African descent” in their instruction and was concerned when he learned last week that the program’s future was in jeopardy.

“People should have that option to be a part of this program as a major in it regardless of the fact if it’s only three students that graduate from it,” he said. “It’s still a net gain for the university so I was like, we definitely need to do something about this.”

Avery raised awareness about the situation by sharing information on social media. Members of the UCA faculty and staff also spoke out against eliminating the major in a letter dated Jan. 20. More than 70 people signed the letter that was addressed to Tom Williams, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Patricia Poulter, provost and executive vice president. 

The letter protested the decision to end the major and called on the university to reinvest in the program, arguing that since Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, the country “has witnessed a national reconsideration of systemic racism a new understanding of the role played by Africana Studies in helping meet the collective challenges of our society.”

During the past week, UCA requested ADHE offer another option other than “deletion,” and Davis said those conversations led to the two-year extension. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the program, ADHE is allowing UCA to continue its efforts to recruit students and increase the number of program graduates.

Avery is skeptical about the extension and said it “feels like it’s in bad faith” because it’s an action that could have been taken sooner.

“Why did it take people telling you all that you should be doing this,” he said. “After just having a day of racial healing on Monday for Martin Luther King Day, ya’ll turn around and get rid of the major that actually strives to teach people about Martin Luther King and racial healing and the race problems. It was like cognitive dissonance for sure.” 

To save the major, Avery said it will take buy-in from more than just the program’s director and he would like to hear specifics about how the university is planning to invest in the program including whether that will involve financial support and a recruitment plan.

“I hope students take the opportunity to take a course within the African and African American Studies program and I hope that the university, the students, the faculty all try to recommit themselves to diversity if this is what UCA says it stands on,” he said.

More information about the African and African American Studies program is available on UCA’s website

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.