The Solution Does Not Lie in the Administration

DISSENT:

Perhaps I am just a cynic, but the Harvard-can-make-it-all-better mentality behind the staff position seems futile and petty. The staff looked at the problems of diversity and at the ineffective Harvard Foundation and Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs, and it concluded that there is some sort of causal relationship between the two.

If there is a diversity problem, the idea seems to be that Harvard let it happen. And if there is a solution, it must also lie in the administration. Fundamentally, this view suffers from an illusion of the College administration's power.

To be fair, the staff position does concede that student action is also necessary to remedy the problems inherent in diversity, but this concession is offered as a mere caveat before proceeding to the "real" solution. The bent of the article is revealed not only in what it discusses (how the administration can make everything better) but also in what it leaves out (any serious treatment of alternative solutions).

We are told that "there needs to be an institutional commitment to both react to 'crisis' situations and to work proactively to remedy the problems raised above. The two existing administrative organizations devoted to those goals ... do not live up to that promise." But what is that promise?

The "problems raised above" include not just the anonymity of Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle, but the fact that many students' friends come from within the same ethnic group and that many members of minority groups only feel comfortable in houses with a high percentage of that minority.

The staff is right that the Harvard bureaucracy has yet to correct these problems, but do we really ever expect them to? That people feel more comfortable around others of the same ethnicity is a powerful, age-old phenomenon. I would roll over dead if Harvard College could make any substantial progress in this area.

The solution proposed is brave only in its triviality. In the face of self-segregation and a lot of latent or not-so-latent bigotry we are told that the answer to our problems is an administrative shuffle. We need "a single office with a clearly stated mandate" and "an effective, charismatic leader."

Am I the only one who doubts that moving a few desks and creating a new title will amount to absolutely nothing? How is the new "diversity czar" (an interesting title in light of conservative accusations that PC is becoming increasingly autocratic) supposed to solve our problems? Hold more picnics? Stage a rally? Distribute a letter? Start a committee? Not exactly a recipe for success.

If we were to give the diversity czar the power of mind control I would believe they could change things. Indeed, the College can do better, but barely so. Just because a problem exists at Harvard does not mean that the administration can fix it.

And this means that when we criticize the administration, we should be careful. The staff seem to be very sure that Hernandez-Gravelle has failed in her job, but what are their criteria for success? The Harvard Foundation and The Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs have not lived up to their promise, of course--because they cannot.

Entirely eliminating racial problems anywhere is just impossible. A better standard for evaluation might be to ask how much progress the College has made given its means. Frankly, I think it has done all it can. Ten thousand more letters, a million more rallies, and infinitely more posters will bring about little improvement.

In the end, an administrative solution does not exist, and proposing such solutions or attacking the present administrators simply perpetuates the myth that it does. I am not advocating apathy, and I do not believe that the College's inability to solve the problems of diversity means it should not try. But Harvard cannot make everything all better, so we should not blame it for all that is bad.