No Praise for Bell's Leave
To the Editors of The Crimson:
As a Harvard undergraduate taking a leave of absence in Chicago, I was dismayed to read about Professor Derrick Bell's recent actions at Harvard Law School in the Chicago Tribune. It cannot be denied that currently there are no Black female tenured professors at the Law School. Dr. Bell's leave of absence without pay is an attempt to rectify this situation by influencing the administration in their hiring practices. I agree with Dr. Bell in believing that the Law School's predominantly white tenured faculty should be expanded to include non-whites, especially women. However, Professor Bell's ill-advised attempt at influence brings more harm than good to Harvard University for all races.
Since Dr. Bell is so closely affiliated with Harvard, he may not realize the negative effect of his recent, far-reaching publicity outside the Harvard community. Whether or not Harvard appoints a Black female to the Law School faculty, the publicity has already labeled Harvard's reputation based on a single, one-sided incident. The press coverage portrays racial discrimination so severe that it requires a well-respected, tenured professor to forfeit his salary to rectify a racist hiring policy at Harvard Law School.
In actuality, Dr. Bell has made the prospect of hiring non-white faculty more remote. With the above reputation, the Law School administration will be hard pressed to comply with Dr. Bell's demands. His publicity tactics have backfired. Few qualified Blacks, female or male, in their right mind would accept a position at an institution with such a tarnished hiring reputation, Harvard or not.
Furthermore, as an Afro-American Studies minor, I am afraid that Dr. Bell's actions will do nothing to encourage Black students to apply to Harvard University. With a suffering Afro-American Studies Department, Professor Bell's actions only continue to dissuade prospective high school students from applying to or attending the College. There is no question that the publicity tactic Dr. Bell has chosen is persuasive indeed. Qualified Black college graduates will be "persuaded" to look elsewhere for a law school with a better reputation than the oversimplified one that Professor Bell has publicized by his action.
Unfortunately, any non-white faculty hiring the Administration chooses to do will not be as publicized as Dr. Bell's allegations or racist hiring. I doubt seriously the Chicago Tribune will choose to print a positive follow-up story if the Law School were to grant Professor Bell's wishes. If Derrick Bell and his supporters take a good look at all the fuss he has made, they will see that his actions were shortsighted and have no percussions. Kelly S. Mikelson '92