Defending the CID Mission
Picture a first-grade classroom. Now imagine that, each year, one first-grader is randomly killed. In many of the world's poorest countries, this is a reality--and malaria is the killer. These are places where five percent of all children die of malaria.
I learned this last Wednesday afternoon from Amir Attaran, a scholar at the Center for International Development (CID). The CID was holding the first meeting of its new study group for undergraduates as part of an effort to reach out to the College. That morning, The Crimson printed an editorial that seemed to suggest that the CID be dissolved "utterly and completely" because of its similarities to its predecessor, the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID). After recalling the scandal that brought down the HIID, the editorial questioned "how much good" the CID does undergraduates, claiming that "research done by HIID staff was never passed directly to graduate or undergraduate students." Though The Crimson corrected its mistake the following day, the CID deserves a stronger defense.
The CID is among the most important programs in the University. The CID teaches development classes (at the College, the Kennedy School of Government and elsewhere); it trains both undergraduate and graduate students via fellows programs; and--unlike most of the rest of the University--it calls attention to issues of moral importance in the world at large.
While much of academia considers the abstract or the obscure, international development issues are concrete and of enormous relevance. Those seriously concerned about human welfare have a responsibility to learn about and fight for the billions of people who, by accident of birth, do not live in rich countries. As well as teaching Harvard students, the CID seeks to educate decision-makers in the outside world; it regularly speaks to legislators, aid workers and philanthropists about how best to help those who need it most.
The scandal that led to the HIID's demise was perpetrated by a small number of highly-placed people; meanwhile, the other members of the HIID's staff remained deeply committed to improving the plight of the world's worst-off. The Crimson should be smarter than to presume guilt by association. Rather than attacking the CID, we should be praising it--and getting involved. As long as a million people die each year of malaria, and as long as students don't know about it, the CID is a necessary part of Harvard.
Benjamin M. Wikler '03 is a social studies concentrator in Cabot House.