THE UNIVERSITY'S WILLINGNESS to allow the Afro-American Cultural Center to cease its operations because it lacks necessary operating funds indicates that Harvard's priorities have clearly shifted since the Faculty pledged its whole-hearted support to the Cultural Center five years ago. If that is not the case, then the pledge made when the Faculty approved the Rosovsky report in 1969 was not worth the paper the report was written on.
The Rosovsky report was a progressive document stimulated by the tragic murder of Martin Luther King and informed by the rising tide of militancy among black undergraduates. It undertook to discuss in a serious way "the quality of black student life at Harvard." The committee that wrote the report discovered that conditions at Harvard were such that black students here needed a cultural center along the lines of Hillel House or the Newman Center. The report urged the University to "use (its) good offices in securing and financing a building and providing continued support to the activities of such a social and cultural center."
Conditions at Harvard have not changed so significantly that the need for the cultural center is any less pressing now than it was in 1969. Some members of the Faculty feared in 1969 that the center would become a vehicle for black seperatism, but that is clearly not the case or at issue in 1974. Why, then, must the center close down for lack of funds only five years after the Faculty's pledge of support?
One reason is that the Afro-American Cultural Center does not have any extensive access to private sources of funds. Many of Hillel's administrative costs are underwritten by the national Hillel organization. There is no corresponding parent organization for the Afro Center. Black foundations do not want to use their scarce resources at Harvard--the wealthiest private university in the world--when there are more immediate uses for that money. And because of Harvard's past history, there are not enough wealthy black alumni to support the center.
So if the center is to exist--as the Faculty affirmed it must--the responsibility for helping it to do so falls on the University and its fund raising machinery. The current troubles exist because this machinery has stopped working for the Cultural Center.
Surely, Harvard's good offices are no less good now than they were in 1969, yet the University claims it can no longer find any donors for the center. Harry F. Colt, director of the University development office, said last week that his office had spent more time last year on the cultural center fund-raising project than any other. Yet the fact remains that the University finds millions of dollars for the Pusey Library and Canaday Hall and not a cent for the cultural center.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from this sad affair is that the University is slowly moving away from the commitments it made when it approved the Rosovsky report in 1969, and this in turn must lead to questions about even the original commitment. Dean Rosovsky said last week that the 1969 report is no longer directly relevant to the matter. If that is the case Harvard has the responsibility to explicitly redefine its relationship to its black undergraduates; as it stands now that relationship is exceedingly murky. In the meantime the University must live up to its original commitment and find funds for the center, or failing that, approve a new proposal for the establishment of a University-funded Third World Cultural Center.