Few question that Harvard should work towards hiring more minority faculty members. But many supporters of Affirmative Action on campus might not realize just how demanding the task at hand is.
Recent accusations by the American Council on Education [ACE], to the effect that Harvard has exaggerated the difficulty of minority hiring, strike us a hollow and undeserved. In the section focusing on the Faculty or Arts and Sciences, Harvard's report cites the fact the rate of new Ph. D.s among Blacks and Hispanics decreased between 1987 and 1992. ACE countered that the number of new Hispanic Ph. D.s increased by 3.4 percent between 1991 and 1992. "Harvard' numbers just don't sound impressive," said ACE Senior Scholar Reginald Wilson. "I guess they feel like if they hire one minority, they should light a candle."
For one thing the rate of Ph.D. attainment is not the same as the number of Ph.D.s attained. Harvard's report referred to a declining growth rate in new Ph.D.s, and, moreover, the Harvard report cited figures for a five-year period. The facts from ACE can hardly be called well-directed criticism.
We must also realize that hundreds of colleges and universities all over the country face the same problem that Harvard does. The competition for talented minority faculty rages intensely. Even if the number of Ph.D.s for a given minority increased by a full 5 percent each year, Harvard might not feel the difference. Quite possibly, those extra candidates would be snatched up by other institutions.
In addition to these demographic considerations, academic factors enter the search process. Harvard must maintain its high level of scholarship. Affirmative Action does not result in the hiring of inferior faculty; it merely makes a minority background a pertinent qualification when two candidates are equally matched in all other respects.
Finally, any positive moves that Harvard makes will not necessarily be felt by all sectors of the campus population. Rudenstine himself has mentioned the "pipeline problem" as minority Ph.D.s are concentrated in specific fields, thus precluding each department access to the same percentage of qualified minority candidates. With approximately 40 departments and several graduate schools, minority hiring by this financially restricted University will necessarily be slow and scattered.
While Harvard should continue to work toward hiring more minority faculty members, recent criticism has ignored the complexity of the implementation of Affirmative Action. As a close reading of the released statistics shows, the accusations against Harvard by ACE prove unfounded.