Not Just Diversity
To the Editors of The Crimson:
After reading the article on minority recruitment by Tony Butler, Gail Dunbar, Ruben Medina, and Felix Torres, I feel that I must disagree with some of the authors' basic assumptions. The authors seem to feel that Harvard, as an elitist, racist institution, is some sort of "wonderful club"--the Porcellian Club of universities--and that Third World people should make up a greater proportion of the club members. "We are making a demand for recognition of our uniqueness, as Third World people. It is a recognition that Harvard gives to athletes, musicians, and alumni children, but not us. Until recognition of our uniqueness is made Harvard cannot claim to be a truly diverse, hence great, university." Unfortunately, Harvard is not primarily a club for those who have in some way made it, nor would Harvard be a great university simply as a result of being diverse. Harvard's function and her greatness lie in other areas.
Should I demand that the university allow me to take a graduate seminar in Homeric Epic although I do not have the necessary background to do the work? Whether or not I am capable of learning the background material is not the issue, for if I have not learned it how could I do the more advanced work? If one is unfamiliar with the English language, perhaps that person should attempt to gain some knowledge of it before demanding to be admitted to Harvard (and how does one decide that words are familiar to one racial group and not to others? Economics?)
Harvard's function is to teach. And her greatness lies in the quality of her teaching and the ability and diversity of her students. Diversity by itself is only diversity. It is not good, it is not bad. At a place like Harvard, diversity at the expense of academic and intellectual ability and preparation is bad.
The authors of the article state, "This recognition (the admission of Third World students) must be a dynamic process, not merely as compensation for past oppression, but as acknowledgement of the fact that Third World people comprise a large and growing proportion of this nation's population--a proportion of the population that will no longer accept being denied the wealth and opportunity they helped create." I have two objections to that: It can sometimes be a dangerous thing to demand things for the future as reparation for wrongs done in the past. This often compelling argument has been used as a means for obtaining what one has no real right to. An example: "When the Saint Lawrence Seaway was constructed, my family was dispossessed and lost almost everything we had. Therefore, now the U.S. and Canadian governments should pay reparations." The sins of the father are always visited upon the sons.
In addition, the authors have left the most important point out of their manifesto--this recognition they demand should not be a recognition of race only, but also of academic preparation and of ability. If Harvard will accept a person simply because he belongs to a racial or ethnic minority why shouldn't they accept me simply because I am left handed or walk with a limp? If academic ability is not to be the primary consideration for the admissions office, then how long will Harvard remain a college that anyone interested in learning wishes to attend?
I am not denying the importance of minority recruitment, but only the way that it is often thought of. If I had to choose between a diversity of racial groups and a diversity of students, I would choose the latter as the better group for Harvard. If I was concerned simply with integrating a club, then the former might be the better choice. But Harvard should not be a club, but a college, in the old sense of the word, a collegium of students, from different backgrounds (Exeter, Third World countries and wherever else) united in their common striving for knowledge. --F. Douglas Raymond '80