Epps Pushes for Reform

Suffers From Bureaucratic Inertia, Infighting

After Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III took on his proconsulary role in charge of the College's race relations policies last summer, many students saw the opportunity to rally behind the administration's new efforts to heal the tensions of the previous spring.

Now, almost year later, the Race Czar has faced a fiery trial which has included a coalition of minority student groups who dubbed Harvard "the Peculiar Institution," a Boston Globe profile which called him "the water carrier" of the administration, and bureaucratic infighting in his own backyard.

Epps tends to dismiss his his most venomous critics, most of whom are limited by their four-year attention spans, who he says expect too much too fast.

"People tend to think of these things like a television show that begins and ends in an hour," he said. "That is not the nature of race relations."

A veteran of the College administration for over 25 years, Epps is the quintessential Harvard bureaucrat. Some observers say his tidy, orderly world view doesn't always find a proper purchase on the anarchic problem of race relations. Instead, Epps stresses the need for long-standing administrative mechanisms, usually involving some sort of committee structure, to handle race issues as they arise.

Epps' brand of race relations is a democratic process which values a wide range of opinions but sometimes tows the line of bureaucratic inefficiency.

"I think it's mostly been a lot of bureaucratic shuffle," Raza President Richard Garcia '95 said earlier this year.

Even Professor of Afro-American Studies K. Anthony Appiah, who heads one of the new committees, has voiced some concern about the burgeoning bureaucracy.

"The more people giving thoughtful attention to such a subject, the better," he says. "I happen to think there are too many committees generally at Harvard. There may be better things for us to be doing but I don't think that's a problem in itself."

But despite the criticism, Epps continues to operate like King Arthur at the Round Table, incorporating as many opinions and viewpoints into the race dialogue as possible.

"I think it is fair to measure our success by asking how many race-related events there have been, how many student complaints, if there were informed responses to the complaints, and how large a group participated in the evaluations," Epps says.

"There is now a broader participation in the discussions on race relations," he says, citing the involvement of more than 100 people of different ethnicities and backgrounds in the discourse about race relations he had tried to foster this year.

But Epps' expansive management style has sometimes led him to tread on the tender egos of his colleagues-turned-subordinates in the morass of race relations committees, officials and organizations at the College.

One of his primary tasks as Race Czar has been mediating a turf war among the College's three overlapping race structures: his own race relations committee, S. Allen Counter's Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and Assistant Dean Hilda Hernandez Gravelle's Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs.

Counter allegedly encouraged the co-chairs of the Asian American Association (AAA) to write a letter to The Crimson criticizing Epps in his role as Race Czar, according to the authors of the letter. "Anyone working at race relations is expected to follow professional codes of conduct which includes direct discus- sion with one's collegues," Epps says. "It should not include working through students to send a message."

In a letter to The Crimson last week, Counter denied encouraging the public airing of AAA's charges against Epps. He did not, however, defend Epps, noting that "We are always concerned when any member of our community is perceived as the victim or the cause of racial insensitivity."

The episode follows Epps' comments about Counter in January in which he placed part of the blame for the College's race relations problems with the Foundation. It may also be the escalation of an internal battle, as rumors mount that a massive overhaul of the College's race relations bureaucracy may claim the Foundation in its current form.

Nevertheless, Epps promises to continue to promote greater cooperation between the Office of Race Relations and the Foundation, one of his original mandates as coordinator.

He stresses that the Foundation and the Office of Race Relations have collaborated on events five times this year. Last year there was no such cooperation.

And, while Epps may have run into difficulty in managing the organizational structure stop which he presides, one of his main concerns may be that the bureaucracy continues to function like a bureaucracy.

His Operations Committee has met six times, handled isolated race-related incidents and looked at some of the rules of funding and administration within the Foundation. Its sister group, headed by Appiah, is examining long-term curricular reform in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and has met three times without coming to any conclusions.

Epps says his main successes may have come from above rather than below--from the upper echelons of the University administration. He says he is especially pleased with his success in achieving a "top-down response" to questions of diversity, beginning with President Neil L. Rudenstine and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles.

The cordial response of University officials to the demands of the minority student coalition, for instance, is a certain indication of a change in the way race issues are viewed on campus, he says.

"The curriculum should be more inclusive and the faculty more like the student body," Epps says, agreeing with the coalition's demands.

In response to those concerns, Rudenstine revealed plans last month for the "Diversity Fund," which has opened 15 professorships targeted for women and minorities.

Previously, Knowles appointed Dean for Undergraduate Education Lawrence Buell to head the Ethnic Studies Committee. The release of the committee's report, slated for completion by the end of the term, has been postponed indefinitely, however.

But somewhere behind Rudenstine and Knowles who offered relatively timely if not immediate responses to questions of diversity this years looms Epps as an omnipresent figure.

"You should measure my success by my influence on other people in the structure," he says.

Just the race relations bureaucracy is scheduled for pruning, one new arm of the College's policies will probably be the Law School-sponsored Harvard Mediation Service, a program to train administrators, students and faculty "who could then provide mediation assistance to any members of the Harvard community who needed help to work through conflicts concerning race."

The service is Epps' favorite recommendation from the Harvard Negotiation Project's May 14 report.

Epps says he is excited about the prospects the Mediation Service might offer for the coming year. With more assistance in dealing with student concerns, he will be free to deal with other problems in race relations.

"Now I can turn to the structure itself," he said. "We might turn to more consolidation under one umbrella--the simplification of the structure perhaps by retaining the factors that have worked so well."

The Negotiation Project conducted a diagnostic study of race relations at the College, the only one that has provided what Epps describes as "substantial" recommendations for next year.

The independent firms doing the study, Conflict Management Group and Conflict Management Inc., donated their time to the College to study race relations on campus.

Much of the Negotiation Project's study analyzes the problems in the way race relations issues are considered and handled on campus. And most of the suggestions are broad guidelines for the way in which students and faculty should deal with future race conflicts.

"A lot of it is sort of preparing-the-ground stuff," Epps says.

Epps also says he is pleased with the apparent easing of the Black-Jewish tensions that reached a climax last year when the Black Students Association door-dropped a flyer titled "On the Harvard Plantation," which charged the University with institutionalized racism.

And next year's orientation week has been revamped to better prepare incoming first-years to deal with Harvard's racial diversity.

However, as the AAA's recent letter indicates, ethnic and racial tensions have not disappeared.

Epps says he recognizes it's time to pare down the often ponderous race relations structures to deal efficiently with student group's complaints. "We hope to use the summer to continue planning," he said.

But, in September, Epps will most likely find himself performing a balancing act between student and administrative concerns as the structural unification process begins. And it promises to be as difficult a fight for the Race Czar as he has seen all year.

'People tend to think of these things like a television show that begins and ends in an hour. That is not the nature of race relations."