FOOTNOTES September/October 1999
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The Executive Officer's Column

The ASA’s MFP—A Solid Investment

The Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) of the American Sociological Association (ASA) celebrated its 25th anniversary at the ASA Annual Meeting in Chicago. What a marvelous invention it was and is. In the early 1970s, it took foresight to initiate a national training program for underrepresented minorities. It has also taken sustained energy, vision, and vigilance over the years to build a program of excellence. As with any milestone, this is a time of great satisfaction and also a time of reflection and rededication.

Early Initiative and Building the Foundation

The MFP was initially urged by the Caucus of Black Sociologists (CBS). The Caucus was formalized in 1969 after an ad hoc group concluded that ASA had failed to take visible steps to enhance the participation of blacks and other minority sociologists in ASA (Blackwell, 1988; Sewell, 1992). By the 1970 Annual Meeting, the CBS had presented a number of resolutions at the ASA Business Meeting including the establishment of an Opportunities Fellowship Program to provide stipends for graduate training.

With sound judgment and leadership, then President William Sewell appointed a subcommittee of Council (S. Frank Myamoto, Chair; Morris Janowitz; Stanton Wheeler; Melvin Seeman) to meet with representatives from the Caucus (James E. Blackwell, Chair; John Moland; Jacqueline Jackson; James Conyer; Charles U. Smith; Edgar Epps; William J. Wilson) in order to prepare a report and recommendations. By May 1971, with this report in hand, Council decided to establish a fellowship program and to authorize the then Executive Officer, Jay Demerath, to hire a staff officer, to seek outside support for the program, and to urge member donations. (See details in Blackwell, 1988.)

Demerath brought considerable commitment to the task. By December 1971, he hired Maurice Jackson as Specialist in Racial and Minority Relations, and, by May 1992, the first training grant proposal was submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health. While many persons worked on the development of the proposal, the success of the final submission has been attributed largely to Jackson and to Dr. Mary Harper, Assistant Chief of the Center for Minority Group Mental Health Programs at NIMH. Dr. Kenneth Lutterman, Chief of Social Sciences of the Manpower and Training Section, also played an instrumental role. (Lutterman subsequently served as NIMH program officer from these early years through this past summer.) The first grant, effective July 1, 1973, envisioned supporting ten new Minority Fellows each year after a development year. We mark the functional beginning of the Program as 1974—because this was the year that the first cohort of Fellows started to receive support.

A Model that Works

The goal of the Minority Fellowship Program then and now was to enhance the capacity of minority individuals to conduct research in sociology and mental health and to enhance the capacity of institutions more generally to provide such training. The MFP Program was the first of its kind—a grant to a national disciplinary association to provide coordinated training and support. In essence the MFP is a partnership between the National Institute of Mental Health, the ASA, and the universities at which Fellows study. Since its inception, the Program has had a substantial training component and agenda that go well beyond providing excellent minority students with fellowships and tuition.

Ed Murguia, MFP Program Director, and I recently prepared a report on the MFP Program in preparation for a workshop being held at NIMH in October on minority training programs and strategies. This workshop and a deadline in December for the next five-year application have led us to examine some of the key features of the MFP Program and indicators of its success. The full report will be available later this year; it underscores how much we have to celebrate about the MFP. To illustrate with a few examples:
  • Almost 400 Fellows have been funded to date, with 49% being African American; 27%, Latino/a; 18%, Asian American; and 6% Native American. While information is not available on the relative proportion of each race/ethnicity group among minority sociology graduate students generally, we estimate a higher proportion of African Americans and Native Americans in the MFP Program.
  • The MFP Program supports almost one-fifth of all minorities receiving PhD degrees in sociology.
  • Based on our current count, the MFP Program has added 215 minority PhDs to sociology.
  • Of those students of color who entered the MFP Program between 1979 and 1988 (a ten-year span far enough back so that students might have been expected to complete their degrees), we know that at least 75% of these Fellows have obtained their PhD.
  • The average years-to-PhD-degree for MFP Fellows is 6.63 years. While we can only compare MFP Fellows with all students who received their PhDs from July 1996 through December 1997, sociology students overall take longer to finish—on average, 6.95 years.
  • Rededication

    As we celebrate what the MFP has achieved, we are also moving forward. Cohort 26 joined the Program in September. We are making the case for an increase in the size and duration of Fellowships, a “dependents” allowance, and additional core support to ASA for operating MFP. We also are laying plans for adding new features to the Program such as an annual Mentoring Conference for advisors and a First-Year-Cohort Workshop for entering Fellows. With 40% less resources for ASA operating activities in 1999 than in 1974 (using the CPI Index), we are experts in doing more with less. Donations from aligned sociological associations1 are essential to our task as are contributions from individual ASA members. This year, please contribute as much as you can—whether or not you have done so before. The MFP has a great record; it is a solid investment.—Felice J. Levine


    Blackwell, James E. 1988. “Historical Development of the Minority Fellowship Program.” Paper presented at the 83rd annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 1988, Atlanta, GA.

    Sewell, William H. 1992. “Some Observations and Reflections on the Role of Women and Minorities in the Democratization of the American Sociological Association, 1905-1990.” The American Sociologist 22:56-62.

    1 With ASA’s considerable thanks, substantial contributions have been received over the years from Alpha Kappa Delta, the Association of Black Sociologists, the Midwest Sociological Society, the Southwestern Sociological Association, and Sociologists for Women in Society, among others.