Afro-Am Activists Challenge Rosovsky
Even before the first chimes of the Memorial Church bells, a ringing cry from more than 60 students tolled through Harvard Yard yesterday morning.
First-years accustomed to their usual 8:45 wake up call rose about 15 minutes early to a chorus of chants and songs protesting the dearth of faculty in Harvard's Afro-American Studies Department. A crowd of demonstrators, many of whom had spent the night lined along the University Hall perimeter, gathered to show their support for eight students locked within the building's walls.
"One, two, three, four, Dean Rosovsky open the door," intoned the group. The demonstrators numbered as many as 150 at the highpoint of Thursday's protest, but they never did bring the acting dean of the Faculty outside.
In fact, Rosovsky was not even in Cambridge. He was far off in New Orleans, and did not see the sit-in until he returned to the University at about 8 a.m. yesterday.
The acting dean, who returned this fall for his second stint at the Faculty helm, has seen such demonstrations before. As he says, "I've been through quite a few," and more than a few have centered on the Afro-American studies issue.
In the late 1960s, when student activism for Afro-Am grew militant, Rosovsky chaired a Faculty committee on Afro-American studies. At that time, Rosovsky and his colleagues suggested in a report to the Faculty that Harvard establish an interdisciplinary committee, rather than a department, to address the Afro-Am issue.
Although the Faculty approved that plan at first, they later decided to form a department, Rosovsky says. Despite his earlier recommendation, the dean now says he supports the Faculty's decision.
"I have said I am absolutely committed to enforcing the Faculty will on this issue," Rosovsky says. "I have worked as hard as anybody to make this a department."
Students have repeatedly alleged that Rosovsky does not support the idea of an Afro-American studies deparment. At Thursday's rally, one organizer and Afro-Am concentrator read from a flyer which quoted the dean as saying, "I do not believe Afro-American studies should be a department. I never have."
But Rosovsky said yesterday that the students have misrepresented his views. "That's a complete distortion of my position," he said.
"We are working hard on this issue," said Rosovsky. "My interest is in making appointments. I take this very seriously."
Asked whether he would rather the Faculty had established an interdisciplinary committee, Rosovsky responed, "At this point, I am committed to the department."
Since last spring, Rosovsky and President Derek C. Bok have asked seven major departments to begin junior searches for Afro-Am scholars. This September, the University hosted a closed conference with top experts in the field--some of whom have declined Harvard offers in the past.
Recently, Bok and Rosovsky met with Afro-Am concentrators and representatives of the Black Students Association in a meeting that ended in a Mass Hall sit-in three weeks ago.
Yet this week, protesters said words needed action, as they called for increased dedication to Afro-Am faculty hiring.
Business As Usual?
Even amid the sitting and shouting and singing and chanting, there was a sense, both yesterday and Thursday, that administration business would continue.
But no one denied that business as usual had been interrupted.
"I think it might have some lasting power," said Joseph J. McCarthy, as he walked into University Hall to begin his day. Other staff and administrators, entering yesterday, made their way around the building to a single, open door next to John Harvard's statue, located diagonally across from the protesters.
John Harvard, facing west, sat peacefully as an American flag waved softly overhead; protesters, facing east, sung "We Shall Overcome" with fists raised defiantly.