Faculty Sidesteps Recommendations On Ethnic Studies

In a letter last month. Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles seemed to dismiss many of the recommendations made by a student advisors committee report on the studs of ethnic studies at Harvard. Issued just before Commencement.

"There is surely no one way, and no single methodology, to study race and ethnicity," Knowles wrote in an August 25 letter to the student members of the Academic Affairs Committee who authored the report "Such studies properly flourish in the humanities and in the social sciences. It makes no sense to try to impose substantive or methodological uniformity on a vibrant field marked by extraordinary intellectual variety."

But the report's authors defended then recommendations in interviews yesterday, saying that they do not view the letter from Knowles and Thomson Professor of Government Jorge I. Dominguez as a rejection of their proposals.

"We consider [the letter] as just another step in an ongoing dialogue," said Veronica S. Jung '97, co-chair of the academic affairs committee of the Harvard Foundation for intercultural and Race Relations.

The group plans to write a letter in response to Knowles and Dominguez.

In its report, the committee proposes that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) take a series of actions over the next three years to develop a specific ethnic studies curriculum, including the creation of four endowed professorships.

"Specifically, four endowed professorial chairs--one each in American Latino Studies, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies and Comparative Ethnic Studies--would do much to reform or improve our current curricular quandary," the report says.

Other recommendations in the nearly 300-page report, shared with The Crimson this week, include the upgrading of the status of the FAS committee on ethnic studies, chaired by Dominguez, from an ad hoc to a standing committee, as well as student representation on that committee.

Additionally, the report calls for the creation of an outside committee to evaluate the current state of ethnic studies at Harvard.

"This evaluation would help Harvard gain perspective on [ethnic studies'] current state of affairs and provide tangible suggestions for the improvement of existing programs," the report says.

"I have read all of their recommendations and I find that these students are still in the process of formulating additional proposals," said Dr. S. Allen Counter, the director of the Harvard Foundation.

When asked repeatedly whether he agreed with the recommendations, Counter said only: "I think it is quite important to indicate that I support the efforts to increase the diversity of our academic curriculum by recommending new opportunities for undergraduate courses of study."

The report calls for earmarking funds from the ongoing University Capital Campaign for the endowed professorships. The campaign is designed to raise enough money for 40 new professorships.

"These professorships have not been assigned to particular subject areas, but the key criterion for the allocation of the new chairs will be teaching need," Knowles and Dominguez respond in their letter.

"We believe that [the study of race and ethnicity] should be considered along with others when the allocations of new chairs from the Campaign are made," the letter says.

Last night, the authors of the report specified that they hope that the new ethnic studies professorships will come from those funds.

"One of our goals is to demonstrate that there is a student motivated force and interest in ethnic studies and there is a teaching need," Vice-Chair Srishti Gupta '97 said.

The push for ethnic studies in the curriculum dates back to the 1960s. More recently, students protested for more ethnic studies courses and specialists at a Junior Parents Weekend rally in the spring of 1994 and again in 1995.

Last year, a new group of undergraduates calling themselves the Ethnic Studies Action Committee said it will go beyond the quiet activism of years past and agitate for increased emphasis on ethnic studies.

Also in 1994, the Faculty Council three times deferred voting on a proposal to upgrade the current ad hoc committee on ethnic studies to a standing committee.

Dominguez presented a draft version of a report by the committee on ethnic studies to the Faculty Council. The council discussed, but did not take any action on, the report.

The committee is currently preparing another version of that report.

"The report of the committee is not done. It is being discussed and revised," said Deborah L. Vasquez, Dominguez's assistant.

The Knowles-Dominguez letter says faculty members do not have a consensus of what should be done.

"There are some differences of opinion among the faculty of the FAS on what the role of the Committee on Ethnic Studies should be," the letter says. "Indeed, these differences exist even among those faculty who are themselves most involved in the study of ethnicity."

In their letter, Knowles and Dominguez did not specifically respond to either of the report's recommendations regarding the committee on ethnic studies.

The report's authors also expressed concern about student input into the ethnic studies debate.

"I think there needs to be student representation on this issue. There should be student representation on committees in general," Julie C. Kim '97, co-chair of the academic affairs committee, said last night.

"A lot of people at the undergraduate level have insight that the administration can use," Gupta said.

Definition of Ethnic Studies

Committee members said last night that there is disagreement among students, faculty and administrators about the exact definition and understanding of ethnic studies.

"There is a lot of confusion on campus and in the Faculty about what ethnic studies is comprised of," Jung said.

"[Knowles's letter] is another step indicating that there continues to be a need for further clarification and further dialogue," Gupta said.

They said that many of the courses which faculty and administrators labels as ethnic studies--including Chinese History 117 and 188, "History of Relations between China and Inner Asia"--are really "regional studies."

"We don't really have a complete program that looks at race as it is played out in American history," Jung said.

The group defines ethnic studies as "a non-objectifying analysis of difference and pluralism in American society." The authors last night emphasized that they want to identify ethnic studies as an area of rigorous scholarship.

The Knowles-Dominguez letter implies that they do not want to limit the study of ethnicity by creating a concentration. Rather, they urge that Harvard foster greater interdisciplinary discourse.

"Our faculty do not favor limiting the study of ethnicity to a handful of groups whose own self-definition has been changing over time and will no doubt continue to do so," the letter says. "Nor is there a good reason to limit, or to privilege, the study of some ethnic groups at the expense of others."

But the committee members said last night that the University has done just that.

"The way we see the situation right now, we are privileging some groups," Gupta said.

The report criticizes the suggestion that the current variety of academic courses can meet the demands for ethnic studies research and teaching.

"An interdisciplinary coordination of current academic offerings would not engage the body of theory existing and emerging from the field of Ethnic Studies," the report says.

"For this reason, while Ethnic Studies are necessarily interdisciplinary, an interdisciplinary coordination effort alone does not constitute a coherent Ethnic Studies program," it says.

The committee based its report on evaluations and research of other research institutions which have defined ethnic studies curricula, including Brown University, Columbia University and the University of California at Berkeley