MU's first African-American professor has seen a lot during 38 years at school

Thursday, October 18, 2007 | 7:06 p.m. CDT; updated 6:20 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — In the almost forty years since he first began teaching at MU, Professor Emeritus Arvarh Strickland has seen the university transform itself both physically and institutionally.

“Someone who came with me in 1969 probably wouldn’t know their way around,” Strickland said. “It is a much better-looking place than it was 37 years ago.”

Strickland is most recognized for being MU’s first black professor, joining the university in 1969 to teach African-American history. Today, he will join Oliver M. Stewart, former MU Physics Department Chair, and Paul Schweitzer, MU’s first full-time chemistry professor, as faculty who will have an academic building at MU named after them. The General Classroom Building, located at the corner of Missouri Avenue and Rollins Road, will be dedicated at 10 a.m. as the Arvarh E. Strickland Building.

The idea to name the General Classroom Building after Strickland was first proposed by the Legion of Black Collegians (LBC) several years ago. Strickland recalled that, when he heard the news, he just laughed and wished the LBC luck. When it was approved, Strickland said he was both surprised and overwhelmed by the honor. Strickland’s name is also on a meeting room in Memorial Union.

Strickland said his most important contribution to MU has been passing his knowledge on to future African-American historians. “One of the reasons I was so happy to get an appointment in the history department at MU was that I wanted to be part of training other African-American historians,” he said. “When I came out of grad school, there were mighty few African-American professional historians in higher education. I am very proud of the African-American historians that I helped to train and prepare for academic life.”

While Strickland sees more African-Americans becoming part of the university community, he also perceives a lack of diversity in black academic leadership positions at MU. He says black students need more mentors and would benefit from seeing more black faculty standing in front of their classrooms.

“We are still not where we should be in the appointment of African-Americans to the faculty,” he said. “Just the presence of African-Americans on the faculty makes African-American students feel like this is more of a place that they belong.”

He also sees certain pressures facing the MU community in the future, in particular “attacks on academic freedom” in the classroom.

MU has played a very important role in the Strickland family beyond its patriarch. Strickland described his proudest moments at MU as watching his son, Bruce, and granddaughter, Janae, graduate from the university. His son received his bachelor’s degree from MU in the 1980s. In 2005, nine years after he retired from teaching, Strickland was able to hand Janae her diploma for earning a bachelor’s degree in biology.

“The Strickland family has been part of MU in some very intimate ways,” he said.

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