Earlier today, I received an email from an old friend, Dr. Renfrew Christie, Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape, copying me in on the report of the memorial service for Kadar Asmal, former Minister of Education in Nelson Mandela's government. Kadar, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting in 1990 or 1991, shortly after he returned from exile, spent more than twenty years teaching law in Dublin. He was an important part of the struggle against apartheid, and I was saddened by his passing. This got me thinking about my own mortality, and led ineluctably to the thought that the wisdom and knowledge I have accumulated over a lifetime will simply evaporate when I die -- not soon, it is to be hoped, but not too many years in the future, inasmuch as I am already seventy-seven years old.
For reasons that I cannot quite fathom, this led me during dinner this evening to talk with Susie about my experiences as the Graduate Program Director of the doctoral program in Afro-American Studies at UMass. I talked about my discovery that the bright, motivated students we enrolled in that program were woefully badly advised at the colleges where they did their undergraduate study. Many of them did not know that one could actually apply to a doctoral program without first earning a Master's degree, or that one could apply for graduate study before having the Bachelor's Degree in hand. They did not know these elementary facts about the Academy because they were so poorly advised, if indeed they were advised at all, as undergraduates. This, like so much else, was second nature to upper middle class white students, who were tapped as having potential in their Sophomore or Junior years and were then guided into successful academic careers.
I told Susie that during the time that I served as GPD, there was a program run by the Mellon Foundation for promising students of color. To apply for one one of the graduate fellowships, one had to take the Graduate Record Examination the first time it was given, in September. But the Black students were not told this, and by the time it occurred to them to apply, they were too late. I called the Mellon Foundation to ask whether they had ever thought to contact Historically Black colleges and inform people of the requirements for their fellowships. No, they replied airily, the information was readily available if anyone wanted it.
I know that I am seventy-seven, and therefore too old for anything but Medicare, but I do wish someone, somewhere, would tap my energies and knowledge one last time to do some good in this world.