Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a nationally acclaimed economist, scholar, author, columnist and professor. So, when it was announced she was appointed Cal State LA’s dean of its new College of Ethnic Studies—the first such college to be established in the U.S. in 50 years—it was no surprise the college would want such a luminary and accomplished academic as part of its faculty.
Yet despite her impressive resume and history of advocacy not everyone was pleased with the appointment of Dr. Malveaux, whose tenure started at Cal State LA July 1.
Her appointment was met with criticism by members of the Jewish community. “For those of us who have watched the ongoing ethnic studies debate in California education circles rage over the last several years, the news that Cal State LA’s new College of Ethnic Studies has named a longtime ally and supporter of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as the school’s first dean seemed like a cruel joke,” wrote Dan Schnur in the Jewish Journal.
Dr. Malveaux is one in a long list of Black intellectuals, leaders, activists, entertainers and politicians who have been administered the “Farrakhan Litmus Test” by Whites and members of the Jewish community who continue a paternalistic pattern of dictating to Black folks who they have a right to support, work with or compliment.
“The recent appointment of Dr. Julianne Malveaux as Dean of Cal State LA’s new College of Ethnic Studies was met with outrage from the Jewish community after it was revealed that she has a history of defending Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan,” wrote Tammi Rossman-Benjamin in a July 13 article also published in The Jewish Journal. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the publication the hiring of Dr. Malveaux—who he described as a “supporter” of Min. Farrakhan—was “unbelievable.”
Mr. Schnur and Ms. Rossman-Benjamin also slammed Dr. Malveaux for her criticism of Israel for its mistreatment of Palestinians and the U.S. for its unwavering support of the Zionist State.
“The United States was founded by the annexation of Native American lands and built with the exploitation of enslaved people’s labor. No wonder we have not objected forcefully to what is happening in the Middle East. In some ways, Israel has taken a page from the U.S. playbook in exploiting Palestinians. No wonder so many are silent in the face of these most recent indignities. There will be no peace in the Middle East until there is justice for Palestinians,” wrote Dr. Malveaux in a column shortly after Israel attacked Gaza, in May resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians.
Dr. Malveaux’s supporters reject the claims raised by those “disturbed” by her appointment.
Dr. Melina Abdullah is a Cal State Pan African Studies professor and former chair of the department. She is one of the primary forces to establish the College of Ethnic Studies.
“I think it’s wonderful she’s here,” Dr. Abdullah said of Dr. Malveaux. “She’s long been an ally, friend and mentor to me and to many of us who are Black Studies scholars. We’ve followed her work forever,” she told The Final Call.
“I think that her credentials are beyond reproach. She is unquestionably a global scholar that has the right to be critical. I think that they are expecting Black scholars in particular to fall in lock step with their demands rather than allowing ourselves to be nuanced with how we approach things,” Dr. Abdullah explained.
This unique college, which focuses on an interdisciplinary analysis of the histories, cultures and social experiences of people of color, as debates over racial injustices and pedagogy make headlines.
Dr. Malveaux brings a history of focusing on issues such as women in the workforce, the impact of racial wealth inequities on economic productivity and the implications of government policies on workers’ health on the job.
“Learning about people of color, learning about marginalized people, learning the whole of American history is as important as learning quantum physics or English literature,” said Dr. Malveaux, who is president emerita of Bennett College for Women, an HBCU in North Carolina.
Cal State LA President William A. Covino said Dr. Malveaux’s long and accomplished record in academia and her history of advocacy will serve her well in her new role as dean of the college.
“I look forward to the work that the college will do and the collaborations that will emerge under Dr. Malveaux’s leadership,” Dr. Covino said. “This is a significant appointment for the college, but also for the city and the nation.”
The College of Ethnic Studies is home to the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, the Department of Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies and the Department of Pan-African Studies.
It’s goal is to develop leaders “who will engage in rigorous, self-reflexive study that motivates critical engagement, self-determination and decolonial understandings of the world.”
Dr. Malveaux has taught at several colleges and universities, including Meharry Medical College, Michigan State, UC Davis, UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. From 2007 to 2012, Malveaux served as president of Bennett College.
Dr. Staci Mitchell also teaches in the Pan African Studies Department at Cal State. She told The Final Call that Dr. Malveaux is exactly what Cal State needs. “I believe that our college is in great hands,” she said.
“Here’s a woman who has made it very clear with her support for Minister Farrakhan with the things that she has said. I can’t speak for the department, but I can say that she didn’t say anything that we don’t feel ourselves. We support her 100 percent,” said Dr. Mitchell.
“For the Jewish community, they have not been involved in our College of Ethnic Studies, they have not had any impact or activism or work in our community at Cal State LA. For them to even chime in on us, was just so out of pocket for me. Especially since it is because of her support for Minister Louis Farrakhan. They want to highlight that as the reason why she’s dangerous. It’s just, anti-Blackness at its worst,” she added.
Dr. Kevin Washington is the chair of the psychology department at Grambling State University. He was at San Francisco State in the 1960’s when the concept of Ethnic Studies was birthed. He told The Final Call that Dr. Malveaux’s support of Minister Farrakhan is in line with what Ethnic Studies is all about.
“Her proclamation of support for Minister Louis Farrakhan is in line with his advocating for a Black humanity and America. When they speak against her, they are actually speaking against the nature of what Ethnic Studies was established for, to rehumanize a de-humanized population. Ethnic Studies is designed to give agency to a population, to have a curriculum that is spent giving existence to a population, and then reaffirm that they’ve been in the world,” he explained.
“So to corrupt the conversation, to make it about anti-Semitism, and then about Minister Farrakhan was actually a smokescreen, moving away from the original intent, which was to give humanity to a dehumanized population.”
Dr. Malveaux is president of PUSH Excel, the independent education policy and scholarship arm of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson. She holds a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in economics from Boston College. She holds four honorary degrees and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
“I think that this charge that they’re leveling against Dr. Malveaux is hugely problematic and I hope that the university steps up and defends Black scholars. They’re lucky to have her. Cal State LA is extremely fortunate to have her. They need to make it clear that they’re fortunate to have her and grateful that she chose to come,” said Dr. Abdullah. (Final Call staff contributed to this report.)