It's About Time

SOME SAID IT would take a miracle before it finally happened. But nearly half a century after men and women first shared Harvard's classrooms, the university may respond to longstanding student and faculty protest and offer a full-fledged women's studies concentration.

While it is likely that the college will begin offering the women's studies option starting in fall 1987, the plan drafted by the women's studies committee still requires faculty approval. Especially in view of its past record on this issue, it would be irresponsible for the university to further delay the timetable.

In the proposed limited-enrollment, honors-only major, undergraduates would take tutorials from the Committee on Women's Studies. Like students in Social Studies and History and Literature, however, undergraduate concentrators would select the rest of their courses from the offerings of the university's existing departments.

But while the committee's plan and the faculty's likely endorsement is a cause for celebration, in the midst of it all we should not overlook the serious obstacles that lie ahead for the discipline at Harvard.

While Harvard has been taking its own sweet time deciding on the legitimacy of women's studies, most major universities, including every other Ivy League school, have forged ahead in forming undergraduate programs, attracting top-notch scholars, and adding relevant courses to their curricula. Last year. Harvard lost renowned feminist literary critic Elaine Showalter to Princeton, which has already demonstrated a strong committment to the field.

While the current plan includes the tenure of a joint post in women's studies and another field, the committee has not been given any additional tenure positions. Instead it is to draw on the faculty of other departments. This set-up is problematic because of the tenuous status of junior faculty at Harvard--the very faculty who are likely to teach courses within the field.

If the university is at all serious about its committment to the discipline, it should consider giving the committee an additional tenured position and give special consideration to women's studies specialists when tenuring within other departments. Above all, the creation of a women's studies concentration should not be an excuse for other departments to neglect integrating women's issues into their curricula.

Furthermore, the current proposal of opening the major to 12 to 15 students may underestimate the amount of interest such a concentration could attract. When the faculty debates the proposal, it should take into account that in past years more than 20 students have applied for special concentration status in this field, and consider accommodating more within its new concentration.

That Harvard has waited until 1986 to announce a probable women's studies concentration is more an embarrassment than a milestone. If the university follows through with its proposal, the future may be as rocky as the past without a long term commitment of teaching resources and a realistic assessment of students' needs.