Lots of excitement this week as there have been daily Kanye West sightings. Accompanying these sightings is speculation about what he is doing here and a great deal of hope that he is here either to assist the school or scout talent for record contracts. Other non-fans and cynics ask: What the hell is he doing here? I imagine that only Kanye knows why he is here.
I've been a fan of Mr. West's since I first heard the song, "Through the Wire" and "Jesus Walks." In my diversity and class and stratification courses I still play "All Falls Down" from his first album; I use it to describe class, conspicuous consumption and related terms. Even though the corporate media tries to sensationalize his image and words often with his help, I know he has a lot to offer still. In addition, I believe that Mr. West is sincere in his visits to CSU. After all, he spent a good amount of time as a youth walking the campus with his mother, the still-esteemed former professor, Donda West. Colleagues who have been around long enough describe seeing Kanye "running around in short pants" as a retired colleague once told me. Undoubtedly, his and his mother's experience here shaped him in many ways. CSU has much still to offer him and he much to offer CSU.
Since Mr. West has begun to show serious interest in CSU I thought it appropriate to assist him in understanding our needs and strengths and offer some ideas about how he can partner (because, of course, he will benefit, too) with CSU. Here's just a few. Feel free to add your own.
--Endow the music program including and especially the new cutting-edge electronic and popular music degree. He could create an endowment that would earn money to buy equipment, hire 3 to 5 faculty members, and fund full-ride scholarships for 30 talented Chicago youth. I am certain that the emcee and music producer would love to assist young men and women like him develop their talent.
--If he loves Black people like he says George W. Bush doesn't, then he could endow a Social Justice Institute. The institute could include an interdisciplinary program in social justice. Again, existing programs in political science, criminal justice, sociology, African American Studies, and others could be used as a framework for developing a new program. It could have research components, provide services, provide jobs and be a think tank for solving many of the social ills that we face in Chicago and around the globe.
--He could endow an urban agriculture problem to help solve the problems of food apartheid including malnutrition, toxic food, diet-related illness and socio economic problems. The urban agriculture program could have a social justice mission that included education but also could connect with communities already doing this work much like the Neighborhood Assistance Center already does with few resources. Once again the money would be used to bolster existing programs in Geography, biology, sociology and others as well as provide scholarships, hire faculty and develop infrastructure related to the Aquaponics Center, etc.
--Develop a Chicago Hip Hop Archive that as always includes an education component. It could include a research library or section of the library, performance spaces, archives, and study rooms. The Archive would build on our already existing resources including our talented students and faculty who teach courses on or related to hip hop and research and write about it. The library staff would be the foundation of this effort and more faculty, staff and other professionals would be hired including hiring students to staff the archive as they learn.
--Bolster the efforts of the Women's Resource Center and Women's and Gender Studies. The unit or program would provide services to our community and to our predominantly adult female population that could include daycare, parenting services, counseling, etc. The new program or center would have a research and academic component tied to the existing efforts of my colleagues in Women's and Gender Studies, African American Studies, and other disciplines throughout the university.
--Develop a much-needed community health center/institute again tied to existing programs in nursing, pharmacy, OT and other health sciences as well as appropriate social sciences. Such a center would include services, curricula related to community health, new faculty and student scholarships.
Of course, every unit would want something. Buildings, grounds, student services, enrollment, athletics, etc., etc., all need assistance so that we can become the '21st century university' that we are being asked to become. My belief is that if we are able to bolster our academic programs, create unique programs and tie them to services and social justice, then we will begin to once again make a positive name for ourselves and be a model for urban universities across the country.
Mr. West has already raised the profile of CSU by just being here. My wish is that his presence will start a mutually beneficial relationship between him and us. Not being an academic Mr. West is likely to need help identifying how he can plug in here at CSU. My advice to him is speak to those of us who have been around for awhile and who know our needs.