Michael C. Dawson, the director of the University's Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and the former chairman of the political science department, has accepted an appointment at Harvard University as professor of government and Afro-American studies, effective July 1. Dawson's announcement to leave the University, which was made during early fall quarter, has come to national attention this week due to conflicts between Harvard's new president and several of its prominent black scholars.
"This is very old news. It makes me really wonder whether the impetus for this didn't come from something very far outside the University," said John Brehm, professor and chairman of the department of political science. "Harvard has a great gain here and it's a great loss for us."
Dawson's move to Harvard comes during a period of tension that began in late December between Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, and the Afro-American studies department at the university. Summers was accused of insulting the scholarly work of Cornel West, one of Harvard's prominent black scholars, and of being uncommitted to promoting diversity at the University.
On Saturday, K. Anthony Appia, one of Harvard's highly regarded black studies professors and an expert in African philosophy, announced his move to Princeton due to personal reasons and intellectual opportunities. News of Appia's departure follows a statement from West that he and other professors are considering offers from Princeton.
It is possible that Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's political science department, may also be considering a move.
"It's a large, extremely strong department at Harvard," said Dawson, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in the department of political science. "I regret seeing potential colleagues at Harvard leave but I expect there will remain an extremely strong core."
Dawson said that his decision to leave the University was a hard one to make, but that he looks forward to new opportunities for collaboration at Harvard. "I'll be able to do more work directly on survey research [and] on racial attitudes in the United States, as well as in Cambridge, collaborating with my new colleagues in the African-American studies department," he said, adding that he will continue to do research on the impact of the information technology revolution in the United States.
Dawson's move was also influenced by Harvard's offer to hire his wife, Alice Furumoto-Dawson, an epidemiologist and researcher. "The joint offer [to my wife and myself] was better at Harvard than at the University of Chicago," Dawson said.
Dawson, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1986, has been at the University for ten years. During his tenure, he founded the Center for Race, Politics and Culture, a committee of researchers who study radicalized minorities in comparative frameworks. As dean of the political science department from 1998 until last July, Dawson hired more than ten new professors. "We have been very grateful to Michael for founding the center for Race, Politics and Culture, and for his time as chair of the political science department and we'll certainly miss his presence," said Richard P. Saller, provost of the University.
Dawson is considered one of the top scholars of African-American political behavior and its relationship to cultural issues. "Michael is a true star in political science not in just the particular field he is in, which is race and politics," Brehm said. "What's so impressive [is that] his work about public opinion and political psychology transcends the level of just thinking about race."
Brehm said that the political science department is going to concentrate on hiring effective scholars of race and politics to replace Dawson. "Its one of the mainsprings of American life and the University recognizes that and sees and opportunity for the University to be a contributor to the discussion of that central issue," he said.
"Michael helped us make some very good young recruits here in the area of African-American politics and we want to build on that," Saller added. "He's done enormous good and service for the University."