Harvard and Negroes

Harvard has for some time pursued an admissions policy which gives preference to Negroes. The reasons for this policy are clear and sensible: special treatment is a necessary compensation for Negroes--or for any candidate--whose economic and educational deficiencies prevent him from competing on equal terms with other applicants.

The decision of the eight Ivy League colleges to continue and intensify their recruiting efforts in Southern schools is therefore a good one But the University should recognize the limits of such a policy. The number of qualified Negro candidates is likely to remain small, at least in the immediate future: If colleges confine themselves to aggressive recruiting, the only result will be a fierce and unproductive competition to see who can admit the most Negroes.

In fact, however, Harvard need not restrict its efforts to the Admissions Office. There are many other ways in which the University can benefit Negro education.

One suggestion made by educators recently is that large universities "adopt" Southern Negro colleges and attempt to raise their educational standards through an exchange of faculty and students. Though Harvard has traditionally shied away from formal exchange programs, it might well consider other voluntary steps. The HCUA or some appropriate undergraduate organization could organize a series of informal exchanges, both to introduce Negro students to Harvard and to make students at the College aware of education at Negro institutions.

Various faculty members might be willing to lecture at Negro colleges for short periods, or even to spend a term in residence. And departments might try to channel some of their graduate students into teaching jobs at these institutions, as they have done for other small colleges. Surely universities produce some Ph.D.'s willing to stray off the road to tenure for a few years to take advantage of such a unique teaching opportunity.


An even greater opportunity exists on the secondary and elementary school levels. In many Southern states and in too many Northern cities, Negroes attend public schools in which poor morale, inadequate staffing, and the low socio-economic level of their students often cause education to fail completely. The widespread protests against "defacto segregation" by Negro parents this summer and fall attest to the urgency of this problem.

In part, improving big city "slum schools" will depend on widening employment opportunities and ending segregated housing, but there is much that educators can do to help now. Through its Graduate School of Education--which regularly cooperates with local school systems--the University could send experts to various "problem" schools in the North and South to improve curricula and classroom methods, and to provide special help for students with educational deficiencies. Harvard could undoubtedly attract foundation money for pilot projects in slum schools, similar to New York City's "Higher Horizons" program. And such an Ed School venture has ample precedent: if the University can provide educators to set up a secondary school in Nigeria, it can certainly sponsor a limited program to improve Negro education in this country.

Many other programs will suggest themselves; what is most important, however, is an attitude which recognizes that there are tasks to be accomplished--tasks for which Harvard is particularly well suited. There is nothing undignified or paternalistic about such an attitude. A great university has a responsibility to education which goes beyond the students it admits and the programs it offers in its own classrooms.