Knox College discontinued paying for professor Dr. Frederick Lee Hord’s role as Executive Director of the Association for Black Culture Centers (ABCC) in 2015. After Hord’s slated retirement on Aug. 31, 2020, Knox intends to cease headquartering the ABCC entirely.
“We’ve given ABCC a very long run here. They’ve been here a long time. And when we had the resources we were proud to be their headquarters and we were proud that we could do that. But, I think it’s time for another college or university to step up and carry that legacy forward,” President Teresa Amott said.
The ABCC is a national organization with over 150 affiliated colleges and universities focused on promoting and developing African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and multicultural ethnic centers in communities throughout the United States. Hord first had the idea for the ABCC in 1988 and came to Knox that year as Director of Black Studies. Knox hosted the inaugural national ABCC conference in 1989 and began headquartering the ABCC in 1994.
Among other benefits, membership to the ABCC includes access to a searchable directory of over 100 recommended books focusing on Afro-Asian, Afro-Latino and Afro-Native American relationships to increase the understanding of history and culture of each ethnic group through academic resources.
Headquartering the ABCC includes providing space in Borzello Hall, utilities for the space and business services such as payroll and benefits for an administrative assistant. In the past, Knox has also paid the ABCC headquarter operating budget, which covered travel and student worker expenses.
Despite withdrawing as headquarters, Knox will remain a member of the ABCC.
How it happened
The ABCC temporarily moved its headquarters on July 1, 2015 to Northern Illinois University (NIU), before returning to Knox on June 30, 2017. Before leaving for NIU, Hord offered $2,600 of his own money to continue ABCC operations at Knox during his leave. However Knox did not accept the gift. While the ABCC was headquartered at NIU, the operating budget and Hord’s time as the Executive Director was paid by NIU.
Before Hord left for NIU, Hord himself was paid by Knox under a two-course release arrangement. Under this arrangement, Knox paid Hord to teach four Africana Studies courses, instead of the standard six. In place of two courses, Knox paid for Hord’s time as Executive Director of the ABCC.
Yet while Hord has taught on a two-course release arrangement leading up to 2015, Hord has also taught two capstone seminar courses: AFST 389 and 399 since the establishment of the Africana Studies department.
“I think at most, in 2001 there may have been five or six students in [the capstone]. But that ought to be known. That there was a course release … which was important to me, so I don’t want to sound like it wasn’t important to me … but in fact during all that time that I got on paper the two-course release, I was teaching both capstone courses. Which if you add those two to the four, you got the six,” Hord said.
Knox withdrew this two-course release arrangement in 2015 before Hord’s departure, and chose not to reinstate it upon his return. Since returning to Knox in 2017, Hord has conducted all of his duties as Executive Director of the ABCC without compensation.
“Everything I have done for ABCC since I’ve gotten back has been pro bono,” Hord said.
Despite the withdrawal of the course release in 2015, Hord does not currently teach a full load of six classes because he has entered a three-year phased-retirement program. As Hord approaches his date of retirement — Aug. 31, 2020 — he teaches part-time and is paid part-time.
When Hord returned to Knox in 2017 the operating budget was not reinstated. It was not until 19 months after returning that Knox has begun efforts to reinstate the $3,500 ABCC headquarters operating budget.
“This is a thing where I think it went away and nobody asked for it to come back. And it slipped through the cracks. That was not intentional,” Amott said.
Knox senior Justin Bell began working as a student worker for Hord in the summer of 2017. Bell has aided Hord in his work both as an Africana Studies professor and as ABCC Executive Director, and would have been compensated by the ABCC operating budget.
“These budget situations have always kept being an issue or a confusion because sometimes Dr. Hord has had to pay me out of pocket, he’s had to pay me with his own cash,” Bell said.
While there have been a few occasions where Bell was paid by Hord personally, the majority of Bell’s salary as a student worker has been supported by the Africana Studies operating budget.
Current situation and impact
According to Amott, the decision to cease paying Hord for his time as Executive Director of the ABCC is intended to re-allocate scarce resources from supporting a national organization. She wants to focus money towards what is happening directly with Knox students and campus.
“If I had all the money in the world I would have Dr. Hord as director of ABCC and I would have another faculty member teaching six courses. I can’t have both,” Amott said. “Just as I can’t have the soccer field be repaired and air conditioned dorms … I had to have one or the other, so we chose one.”
Amott cited declining student enrollment, declining numbers of college-aged students in the Midwest and increased competition as causes for significant financial stress. Amott said this is a trend that coincided with the ABCC’s return from NIU and that has hurt smaller colleges in the Midwest in particular.
“I’m not trying to duck or hide anything here,” Amott said. “That is a decision that we made. But I think that it is defensible. It’s never a happy time to cut anything.”
Knox has seven cultural centers: A.B.L.E for Black Culture, Casa Latina Cultural Center, Asian Cultural Center, Queer and Ally, Human Rights Center, International House and Harambee.
Junior Nikyra Washington in is in her second year as president of A.B.L.E. The A.B.L.E. center typically hosts between four and five events a term and meets every Thursday at 7 p.m.
“It’s specifically a support group and center for black students, it’s open to everyone though,” Washington said. “Because one, I think allies are important, also to talk about issues that are happening within the black community or issues that are affecting the black community … while also meanwhile being there to support black students on campus so they also feel like they have a home.”
While the ABCC provides resources to culture centers like A.B.L.E, the ABCC does not focus exclusively on African American centers.
“This is why ABCC is important,” Hord said. “If you’re in an Asian organization we do stuff in ABCC with Afro-Asian stuff. If you’re in Mecha or Lo Nuestro in ABCC we do stuff with Afro-Latino stuff. We don’t have many Native Americans on this campus but we do stuff with blacks and Native-Americans. So ABCC is much more than just a black culture center organization, it reaches out to all of those centers that are doing afro work.”
Knox intends to hire a new Africana Studies professor who will fill the empty position that Hord will leave by retiring. This new professor will teach a full load of six Africana Studies courses. The new faculty member will begin teaching Fall Term 2019, Dean of the College and Provost Kai Campbell said in an email to TKS.
“The new person is going to be 100 percent Knox,”Amott said.
Regarding the future of the ABCC, there have been discussion about the possibility of Western Illinois University supporting the ABCC’s work specifically connected to universities. This would put Knox in a position to only deal with the liberal arts colleges in the ABCC network.
For the moment, it is uncertain where the ABCC will be headquartered after Hord retires from teaching in 2020.
“That there are over a 100 other schools that are members of ABCC and I’m sure that among them, is a school that has more resources to devote than we do,” Amott said. “So I think it is better for Knox and ABCC for both organizations to have the resources they need to complete their mission.”