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The Impasse


FOR THE second time in a week. OBU resorted to the peaceful occupation of University Hall last Thursday to dramatize its commitment to the demands it presented the University almost a month ago. The black students swift decision to break off negotiations with University representatives and resort to militant demonstrations on Thursday may appeal ill-considered at first, but their actions were justified by the University's apparent inflexibility in responding to OBU's first demands.

The nub of the impasse between black students and the University is the OBU demand that Harvard agree to employ twenty per cent black and "Third World" workers on all University construction sites. The Administration has balked at this demand, but the two major arguments with which they have justified their opposition are insufficient.

The University has contended first of all that setting the minimum number of minority workers at 20 per cent would be discriminatory since the proportion of non white workers in the metropolitan area work force falls far short of that figure. OBU disputes the Administration figure, but even if Afro were over-estimating the minority group percentage, their demand would still be legitimate. Tired reservations about "reverse discrimination" are insufficient excuse for not making every possible effort to assist minority group people in their effort to overcome the immense burdens which American society imposes upon them.

A more serous objection to OBU's demands is the contention that agreeing to the OBU demand would be dishonest since the University does not control the hiring of workers, black or white on construction projects and since there simply aren't enough minority group workers in the area with the requisite skills. The answer to the University's fears about finding enough workers is simple enough: it can call OBU's bluff and wait. If the required number of construction hands don't appear, it won't be the University's fault. On the other hand, if the workers do appear but are not all expert craftsmen. Harvard can stand the short term expense of lengthening the time of construction and paving slightly more for its labor. The reward in terms of training minority group workers will more than compensate for this loss to the Harvard treasury.

IT MAY BE TRUE that Harvard does not control the hiring of construction workers, but this problem alone does not justify the University's reservations about agreeing to the OBU demand. The Administration could agree in-principle to the Black students request, make a public statement of the problems the University faces in fulfilling it, and then appeal for OBU's help in finding strategies for achieving their joint purpose. This approach would go far toward eliminating the breach of trust which in large part explains the rapid breakdown of negotiations after last Friday's occupation.

Militant demonstrations are not the most desirable methods for achieving reforms in University practices, but the Administration has it in its power to make such forms of protest unnecessary. It should agree to the OBU demands and begin working seriously to support the efforts of minority group people to gain their just place in American society.

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