February 1, 2002

Staff Editorial

On Dawson's Departure

Michael Dawson, a professor in the political science department and founder of the Committee on Race, Politics and Culture, announced last September that he was leaving the University of Chicago for a position at Harvard University. At the time, his announcement received little attention on campus or in the national media.

But now that Harvard's renowned African American studies department is embroiled in controversy, Dawson's departure seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least as far as major newspapers like The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times are concerned. The likelihood that Harvard's African-American "dream team" might disintegrate clearly will be lessened by Dawson's arrival. "The timing of his coming will be a shot in the arm," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., the founding father of Harvard's African-American program.

Last week's newspaper articles approached Dawson's departure from Harvard's perspective. Comparatively little has yet been done to examine Dawson's decision from the vantage point of the U of C.

The fact is that Dawson is at least the third top-flight minority professor the University of Chicago has lost to Harvard in the past six years. Homi Bhabha and William Julius Wilson both left under similar circumstances. The administration has been trying to recruit minority professors to the University for a number of years, an effort in which Dawson played a major role. The University must pay as much attention to retaining minority professors as it does to obtaining them. The strength of a university lies not only in its new faculty, but in the experienced senior faculty who grow to lead the departments and attract new talent.