Ivory Tower: Teachings Of Tupac

The class: "Hip Hop America: Power, Politics and the Word." The textbook: "Yo Mama's Dysfunctional." The university: Harvard. The professor's tenure status: denied.

This past summer, two years after the acrimonious departure of African-American Studies professor Cornel West from the Harvard campus, university president Lawrence Summers declined to offer tenure to Marcyliena Morgan, a rising star in the Af-Am department. A week and a half ago, Morgan responded by accepting a tenured position at Stanford and taking her husband, Harvard luminary Lawrence Bobo, with her. These moves reignited speculation that Summers, an economist, has less than total respect for the Af-Am department in general and for hip-hop studies in particular. Summers declined to comment.

Morgan defends hip-hop as a legitimate subject of study, describing her course as "a critical examination of hip-hop and its role as a cultural, political and artistic resource for youth." By looking at the language of hip-hop and its relationship to gender and sexuality, Morgan believes the subject can inform more mainstream disciplines. While universities nationwide offered at least 70 courses focusing on hip-hop last year, some academics still question the subject's validity. Harvard English professor John Stauffer doesn't think hip-hop has the transcendent qualities of real art. "One can listen to a hip-hop song for two minutes and be excited, but the true transformation of self... requires work," he says. Apparently Tupac was no Walt Whitman.