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Brass TacksThe Strange Case of Soc Rel

By Saniel B. Bonder

SOMETHING BIG is going to happen at William Junes one of these days. Several people-mainly tenured sociologists-are talking very seriously about splitting up, or splitting from, the Social Relations Department. But nobody knows exactly when Nobody has concrete plans.

Disaffection within the Social Relation Department is nothing now, and it has been felt in other areas besides sociology. The department is an amalgamation of sociology and the social branches of psychology and anthropology. It was created in 1946 mainly to facilitate development of the nascent theory of its founders (Talcou Parsons, Gordon Allport, and others): an integrated, general theory of human social behavior. But the theory never developed sufficiently to gain pre-eminence in intellectual circles. The Social Relations Department at Harvard, though it has produced notable scientific developments and some fine social scientists, has remained a unique and rather tenuous amalgam. And at one time or another, senior faculty members in each of the component disciplines have wanted out.

Yet the current situation of sociology is particularly pressing. Sociology's scientific contacts with other social sciences-government, history, and economics-have always been strong, and lately they have become stronger. Sociology has become more institutional, and less psychological, in its orientation. But the Social Relations Department is built mainly on psychology. Because sociology must share the department's resources and facilities with the other disciplines, its development is shunted. Sociologists have been unable to work as closely as they would like with un-psychological (often anti-psychological) social scientists.

Consequently, certain people-notably Alex Inkeles a social psychologist whose appointment is in sociology-want sociology to break away from Soc Rel. He and others want a strong department which will be able to administer its own programs, attract its own faculty and graduate students, and work out interdisciplinary arrangements as it sees fit. Lukeles notes that branches of anthropology and psychology have always been autonomous departments, and he claims that the creation of a sociology department "would be, historically, truly a restoration rather than a secession."

A little over a week ago, at the request of the department, chairman Roger W. Brown appointed a committee to investigate the whole affair. Headed by anthropologist Irven DcVore, the committee consists of four faculty members and two graduate students. DeVore readily admitted that he is in favor of retaining the present departmental arrangement. As he sees it, there are two groups involved: the people who want to split, and a "silent majority" who seem mostly ambivalent. (Even Parsons says he's ambivalent these days.) DeVore hopes his committee will be a "spokesman for the silent majority," So far, the committee has not met.

THE ISSUE is tremendously complex. A split would engender many new administrative problems: whether or how, to further reorganize the department; how to distribute resources and facilities in a different departmental organization; whether, or how, to retain an interdisciplinary undergraduate program; if not. how to redistribute resources for undergraduate education; and others. The number of undergraduate concentrators in Social Relations has more than doubled in the last six years to over 650. Dean Ford's office has been more than cooperative concerning the Soc Rel budget, but the department simply can't cope with that sort of undergraduate growth. No one has yet reckoned with these factors in considering the department's future, much less its future after a split.

Sadly, the criteria so far voiced for splitting away from the department are, like the criteria for its creation, mainly professional and intellectual. There are also considerations of prestige. But considerations of undergraduate and graduate education are absent or, at best, minimal. These are top-level decisions, and they have apparently been considered with only top-level prerogatives. Even the chasm between senior and junior faculty is astounding, according to Gary T. Marx, assistant professor of Sociology. "They treat us like clerks," he said.

This entire situation, more than any other academic issue of recent times, reveals the increasing width of the generation gaps in academia. If the chasm between senior and junior faculty is astounding, then the one between faculty and students must be hopelessly unbridgeable.

FACULTY MEMBERS used to lead a greater percentage of tutorials. Now they can't; there are too many undergraduate concentrators. Also, owing considerably to the new interest of government and business in their professions, many faculty members are chiefly interested in the development of their specialized disciplines within social science. They see themselves as scientists, not teachers.

The graduate students are in a curious position. They are recruited into specialized programs, and receive specialized degrees. Yet a poll taken last year indicated that about 85 per cent of them are strongly opposed to a split. The interdisciplinary setup is "mercly icing on the cake-but it's really nice icing," said Gregg Thomson, a member of DeVore's committee who had helped coordinate the poll. "It allows for continual growth and transformation," he added, Furthermore, the graduate students have been doing most of the teaching recently. So they have both professional and educational obligations to look after.

Nobody knows about the undergraduates. A departmental policy committee is planning to poll them for their opinions on the split. But it is certainly safe to say that a substantial number of them are in the department precisely because they have little or no use for pre-professional, highly specialized training. Whether they are there because it is a gut, or because they are serious about despecialized learning. they see themselves as anything but scientists.

Neither the undergraduates nor the graduates have begun to organize concerning the possible split. Probably, if they do, they will at first adamantly oppose it. But again, there are many matters to consider. Dean May has indicated an interest in curricular and general educational reform: there may soon be talk about a General Studies major. A split in the Soc Rel Department, possibly "freeing" many undergraduates, could no doubt add considerable impetus to the establishment of such a program. But at the same time, because it would separate finally the interests of faculty and students, a Soc Rel split could strike a fatal blow to any lingering hopes of community among members of this university.

It is wise to think about these matters very soon. Committee take a long time, but some people have been thinking strange things lately. Alex Inkeles, for one, is tired of talking and considering. "Nobody can in advance work out a master plan which will satisfy everyone." he said. "Those who are clear about what they should do, should do it. Direct action will clarify the situation, and things can be worked out from there."

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