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In Defense of the CFIA Social Research And the Center

By Center FOR International affairs

Until I reached Jay Burke's article in the CRIMSON'S Special Issue on the Center for International Affairs last week, I was increasingly disappointed. There are lots of good questions to be raised about the Center, but even in four full pages Richard Hyland managed to avoid discussing most of them. If one wants to reach the conclusion that "One of the chief motivations for blowing up a building is the sheer malignity of, for example, the CFIA," one doesn't bother with such logical niceties.

By the time I finished trying to separate fact, innuendo, and fantasy, I decided it wasn't worth the effort. As with the November Action Committee tour of the Center, the questioner doesn't really want an answer.

Burke's piece on "Money and the Social Scientist" is quite a different story. He presents a well reasoned version of the current radical critique of social science, illustrated by references to the CFIA, but concerned with much broader questions. He ends with a plea for:

"A thoughtful, reasoned dialogue between practicing social scientists and radicals who challenge their assumptions. . . the solutions probably would not include either closing down research institutes like the Center or ignoring political criticism from students."

This seems an eminently reasonable request. To respond to it, several faculty members have agreed to join in discussing some of the central issues. These extend much beyond the CFIA and involve potential conflicts in the role of the social scientist as teacher, researcher, advisor, and social critic.

Burke's list of radical doubts about American social science has been expanded by my colleagues Samuel Bowles and Arthur MacEwan (The CRIMSON, October 27). Such criticism is typically posed in terms of suspicions as to the extent that traditional views and institutions may inhibit discussion and research directed toward social change.

To pursue these questions, it is necessary to examine how real institutions-academic departments, research centers, donors of research funds- actually operate. It is one thing to propose a general criticism of the uses of social science in the United States, but quite another to verify this diagnosis for a particular entity like the Center for International Affairs. While constructive criticism of the Center is likely to reveal considerable room for improvement, it may not lie in the directions indicated.

The Radical Critique of Social Science

In general, the radical critique runs something as follows:

The (American) social scientist is a product of (American) society and he tends to accept its values. This tendency is strengthened when he has to rely on government funds to support his research and when he advises the government on matters of policy.

This bias is likely to have unfortunate effects on both teaching and research. In particular, it leads to overemphasis on studies that tend to support existing policies and institutions and to the neglect of research on radical forms of social change.

Even basic theoretical constructs in economics and government- such as equilibrium and stability- reflect a concern with maintaining the existing social order and tend to exclude the analysis of drastic change.

The system tends to be self perpetuating because scholarship, academic appointments and research proposals are all judged by the people in it.

This is a plausible set of hypotheses and it should not be beyond the wit of social scientists to test some of them. While it is reasonable to start the debate in rather abstract terms, it is necessary to examine the performance of real people and institutions in order to resolve it.

The liberal answer to this line of criticism is equally abstract. It relies on an open competition among ideas and protection of the freedom of people to express them. The university should be insulated from political criteria in the selection of its members and in their choice of topics for research. The scholar should be judged only when he is appointed to the University; thereafter, there should be a minimum of control over his teaching and research.

Like the principles of Laissez Faire Economics, these sound unexceptionable in theory, but here too it is fair to ask how they work out in practice.

In a period of rapid social and political change, it is highly probable that academic laissez faire will result in temporary shortages in new areas of interest such as Chinese communism, urban ghettos, Afro-American studies, and radical economics. However, the American educational system is more flexible than most in responding to such felt needs.

The real question is whether the system discriminates against certain types of social criticism by means of the two types of control that are exercised: criteria for appointments and support for research. I do not propose to examine the former, although a think a case could be made for deliberately seeking a greater variety of social and political views in the Center for International Affairs and the departments from which it draws its members.

The nature of research is, however, at the heart of most of the questions raised about institutions such as the CFIA.

The Rebuttal

In assessing a research environment it is necessary but not sufficient to insist on the principles of academic freedom. These imply that an existing group of scholars should receive support for whatever they want to study and be uninhibited by outside pressures in the pursuit of their ideas. Since research funds are not unlimited, judgment must be made by either the wholesaler of funds (foundations and government) or the retailer (the research group itself) as to the relative merits of claimants.

Even when it works well, this process leaves two questions to be answered: 1) does the system concentrate research support too heavily on established scholars and traditional fields to the detriment of younger men and new ideas? 2) are there some important topics and ideas that are not even considered because no one outside the system puts them forward?

These questions underlie radicals' criticism of "the system" as a whole and makes them suspicious of the adequacy of the answer of "academic freedom" if it means freedom to ignore questions they think are important.

In approaching these questions, it should be accepted at the outset that the donors preferences and criteria do not agree with the recipients', either individually or in the aggregate. It is well known that natural science gets more adequate support than social science, which in turn fares better than most of the humanities. The same result is almost inevitable within fields.

The notable feature of the American system in comparison to Western European or Communist countries, however, is not how heavy the influence of the established system is, but how much flexibility there is within it. Even though some branches of government and some donors have a narrow definition of their interest, the availability of such support frees up other funds for less popular research areas. A research institution should therefore not be tested by whether it accepts funds that are limited to particular uses, but by the quality of its total product.

To put it more bluntly. if the more orthodox researcher can be financed from more restricted sources, he does not have to compete with the more radical critic for less restricted funds. From this point of view, the ideal institution is one which is orthodox enough to get sufficient financial support from a variety of sources and unorthodox enough to recognize the need for diversity in its output.

The Role of the CFIA

One's view of the performance of the CFIA depends largely on what one thinks its functions should be. Despite its title, the Center does not view itself as responsible for the whole area of international affairs, since there is a great deal of research at Harvard outside its aegis. Rather. Center programs for the past decade have been derived from the interests of its principal members. These have shifted over the years from the traditional concerns of foreign policy with security and the North Atlantic region to a major emphasis on the economic, social, and political aspects of modernization in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The primary interest of many Center scholars is now comparative studies of countries in these areas, with international affairs as a byproduct.

Even though the Center does not claim exclusive jurisdiction in any branch of international relations or comparative studies. it does support a high proportion of the research at Harvard in these fields. It is therefore fair to ask whether its method of operation excludes some promising lines of investigation or leads to one-sided conclusions.

I will try to shed some light on this question in the fields of economic research where I have some responsibility.

Funds administered by the Center currently support research by twenty faculty members and a dozen graduate students in the general area of economic development. Over the past five years this work has been financed mainly from grants to the University by the Ford Foundation, the Agency for International Development, and the National Science Foundation. Research topics and procedures are proposed by members of the faculty or graduate students. incorporated in research proposals, and periodically reviewed with the supporting agencies.

Although each supplier of research funds has its own criteria, they apply only to the specified topics that its funds support. Thus the availability of funds from sources having different criteria-some favoring policy research and some pure research-is an important factor that makes its possible to support very diverse interests.

In practice we have been able to study a wide range of countries and topics ranging from planning models to income distribution and criticism of U.S. Aid Policy from a variety of points of view. In fact, I find it difficult to imagine any subject that would appeal to a serious scholar on which it would not be possible to work because of the sources of our financial support. This would include the functioning of socialist and communist societies, the factors conducive to social revolution and other examples suggested by Burke, MacEwan. and Bowles.

In this area, at least, I doubt that the demands from radical scholars exceed the possibilities for financing them.

Although I do not find evidence of the distorting effects of our sources of finance and hence cannot verify the radicals skepticism. I do not think that necessarily disposes of it. I feel strongly that almost any promising line of investigation should be "supportable" somewhere at Harvard, and that the Center for International Affairs should take some responsibility for the general area in which it works. This implies a willingness to encourage a variety of approaches to problems, including some that senior members may be doubtful about.

At a more fundamental level, the Center (and similar institutions) might consciously seek more diversity of views on its staff members to a greater degree than it has-although if anything is currently lacking in the economic development staff. it is strong supporters of present U.S. policies toward developing countries.

To Consult or Not to Consult

At the university, the professor who makes periodic trips to Washington is regarded as a supporter of the establishment, a man who puts the pursuit of money or power above pure research, or even-in Hyland's fantasies-the personification of all that is evil in the existing power structure. In Washington, however, his image is that of a theoretical, even radical, critic. His advice is sought on new techniques and research findings, but even if he has just left government service, his policy recommendations are suspect. In short, he provides a link between two worlds that are interdependent but tend to be highly suspicious of each other.

In general, this is as it should be and if one finds the dual role uncomfortable. he can choose one or the other.

The issues of government involvement are raised in heightened form by the Center's Development Advisory Service, whose primary mission is advice and secondary function is research. The DAS goes to considerable lengths to avoid both the substance and the appearance of U.S. government influence by refusing U.S. government support for its advisory groups and recruiting half its advisors abroad. Whatever the limitations to its advice, they do not stem from particular dogmas nor from solicitude for U.S. interests. In fact, the services of the Harvard Advisory Service are in demand from a variety of governments largely because it is known to be unaffected by special interests or viewpoints.

The problem of devising alternative frameworks for development policy goes much deeper than avoiding political influence from one quarter or another. It is an intellectual challenge that can be met by bringing together a variety of practical and theoretical talents and experience. The Center for International Affairs would be losing a unique opportunity to do this if it refrained from involvement in practical affairs for fear of becoming tainted. While the radical critics have warned us of the dangers involved. my answer is that we don't have to be so inept as to let it work out that way.


In conclusion, I would like to suggest a somewhat different set of propositions. It seems to me that the main thrust of radical criticism should be directed toward making social science more responsive to a variety of social needs. The academic system works with a greater lag in teaching than in research. since the curriculum tends to be modified only after research findings have been sifted and evaluated by the profession. The research group is therefore both the key to change and the vehicle by which its results are propagated. The persuasiveness of the conclusions to other scientists provide the means of change, not the assertion of one dogma over another.

As for the Center for International Affairs. it should be able to stand scrutiny from the left as well as the right and from scholars as well as policy makers. None should try to make it over in his own image, since that would diminish its value for all. Even more than in the past, the Center should be a place where conservatives argue with radicals, economists with political scientists, and scholars with policy makers. We should nourish and protect it because such places are hard to come by.

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