THE FACULTY IS SCHEDULED to discuss today the controversial recommendations of the Afro-American Studies Review Committee. While many of the Committee's proposals are sound and should aid in the needed reform of the Department, the premise under which the Committee worked was flaws. Continued belief in that premise can only hinder the Department's improvement.
In preparing its report, the Committee assumed that in the Faculty legislation of 1969 Harvard dedicated itself to the establishment of a first-rate Afro-American Studies Department. But the truth is that Harvard has never committed itself to Afro-American Studies. Its response to student demands was to create a hastily devised departmental structure that doomed Afro-American Studies at Harvard from the start. If Harvard wants to create a first-class Afro-American Studies Department, the University must stop deceiving itself about the re-affirmation of a supposed long-standing commitment. It must not set about the business of restructuring and reforming the Department. Only in this way can the Department shed its status as a step-child of the Harvard family and assume its rightful place as an equal in the academic community.
AS A FIRST STEP in this direction, we support several of the Committee's specific recommendations.
We support the Committee's proposal for joint Faculty appointments but not as a substitute for strengthening Afro-American Studies so that it can attract distinguished scholars on its own. Joint appointments can be a valuable way of integrating Afro-American Studies with other fields but should not be a device for leaving the Afro-American Studies Department without a faculty of its own.
We also support the Committee's encouragement of joint concentrations but again not as a substitute for establishing an outstanding program for all Afro-American concentrators. Implicit in our support of both joint appointments and joint concentrations is the belief that the Department must be strong enough to stand alone.
The Committee's suggestion to rotate the Department's chairmanship in line with the practice of other Harvard departments should be instituted. The Department's present chairman, Ewart Guinier, has been unable to cope effectively with the nearly impossible task of running the Department as the Faculty structured it. When choosing Guinier's successor care should be taken to get not only a person who is a good administrator but one who is also a distinguished scholar.
We strongly disagree with the Committee's proposal to administer the W.E.B. DuBois Institute on a University-wide basis. In order to be innovative in the research and dissemination of information on the Afro-American experience, the Institute must be as autonomous as possible. Placing it under the firm hand of the Faculty could only serve to restrict and direct arbitrarily the Institute's research. We urge that an accomplished scholar-administrator be recruited as soon as possible to direct the Institute's program.
For the most part, the Committee's recommendations are good ones. It must be remembered in implementing them that only the University can bear the responsibility for a failure of the Afro-American Studies Department the second time around. Now is the time for Harvard to live up to the commitment it bluffed three years ago.