Leaders of both the American Philosophical Association and the American Anthropological Association have urged Howard University to preserve programs in their respective fields as it contemplates cutbacks as part of a major reorganization of its academic offerings. The associations worry such moves at the historically black institution would harm attempts to bring black scholars into their disciplines.
A commission established by Howard's president, Sidney A. Ribeau, to develop a reorganization plan has recommended that the university eliminate its philosophy program as an independent department and stop offering anthropology as a major. Mr. Ribeau has solicited comment on the commission's plan and is expected to make his own final recommendations for academic reorganization to Howard's Board of Trustees in January.
Alvin Thornton, who led the commission's review as a special adviser to Mr. Ribeau, said on Wednesday that the university's president has accepted about 80 percent of the commission's recommendations and, at this point, favors keeping the philosophy department but eliminating its baccalaureate and master's-level degree programs.
In separate letters sent to Mr. Ribeau last week, Kwame Anthony Appiah, the chairman of the American Philosophical Association's governing board, and Peter J. Markie, the chairman of the association's committee on the status and future of its profession, each argued that the elimination of a separate philosophy program at Howard would hurt efforts to recruit black scholars into their field and jeopardize its status as a leader in the field of Africana philosophy.
The letter from Mr. Appiah says philosophy "continues to have a relatively small proportion of black scholars" and that colleges such as Howard are key to changing that situation. The letter from Mr. Markie challenges the commission's proposal to merge the philosophy program with an existing program in Classical Civilizations, and maybe add in some offerings in religious studies, as based on a narrow view of the field that falsely assumes it is closely tied to its classical roots and "largely concerned with religious issues."
The philosophical association has also mounted an online petition drive urging Howard to keep the program. The drive had gathered about 1,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
The president of the American Anthropological Association, Virginia R. Dominguez, and other officials of that organization similarly sent Mr. Ribeau letters this fall arguing that the elimination of its undergraduate anthropology program would hinder efforts to diversify their field.
Mr. Ribeau has responded to the various letters from disciplinary associations by simply saying that he has taken their recommendations under consideration. "We appreciate the level of interest. This is a very dialectic process," said Kerry-Ann Hamilton, a Howard University spokeswoman.