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Soc Rel 148-149

Brass Tacks

By James K. Glassman

THE CHAIRMAN of the Social Relations Department says he wants Soc Rel 148 and 149 dropped from next year's department offerings. Certainly, this is not surprising. The chairman, Roger Brown, has wanted to rid himself of the two courses--"Social Change in America" and "Radical Perspectives on Social Change"--ever since early in the fall. The problem is that Brown has not yet managed to come up with a good reason for axing the courses. His new reason--that somehow the courses "belong" under the sponsorship of General Education--is probably the weakest yet.

But Roger Brown is fully serious. He intends to take his case to a full department meeting on Tuesday, and he intends to ask the Social Relations faculty to drop from its list of offerings two courses that have a combined enrollment of over 900 students, two courses that teach sociology from a different political point of view.

It must be pointed out from the very start that Soc Rel 148 and 149 will not automatically turn into Gen Ed 148 and 149 or Gen Ed X and Y next year. Edward T. Wilcox, director of the Program of General Education, will not say what his opinions are on the courses. His budget, it is known, is tight, and his attitude toward a similar course. Soc Sci 125, certainly cannot be considered very cordial. It is doubtful that 125 will be given next year. According to the people who run 148 and 149, moving the course out of Soc Rel is tantamount to killing it. From Roger Brown and Edward Wilcox, there is not a word to the contrary.

Dropping this course from the Social Relations Department, then, is extremely serious business. Few courses with such large enrollments have ever been so summarily dropped from the Harvard curriculum. In one sense, if the department does what Roger Brown wants it to do, it will be treading in some rather dangerous territory: the freedom of Jack Stauder, assistant professor of Social Relations and head of the course, to teach what he wants, the way he sees fit within department and University regulations, is an important right. But, perhaps more important, the Social Relations Department, by its action, would be clearly suppressing a particular political point of view, a point of view rarely expressed in Harvard courses.

BROWN'S objections, of course, do not center wholly on the argument that departments should try to maximize specificity throughout the Faculty of Arts and Sciences by making sure that Government courses fit into the right slot and History courses fit into theirs. This is, no doubt, and admirable goal, but it is hardly a goal to achieve at the sacrifice of a course. Brown is saving, in effect, "this course does not really belong in Soc Rel. It seems more General Education-oriented to me. Well, the course may have to be killed in the process. But we certainly must try to make sure each department is teaching strictly department business."

Although Brown has come up with some new arguments recently (and we will deal with these), he originally told the Soc Rel 149 steering committee that the course belongs in Gen Ed because of its "general" content. Gen Ed, however, does not offer only courses of general content. It offers some highly specific courses for nonconcentrators, to fulfill distribution requirements. Soc Sci 100 (International Politics and Foreign Policy in Postwar Western Europe) could just as easily be in the Government Department, Soc Sci 11 (History of East Asian Civilization) could be in History, Nat Sci 9 (the Astronomical Perspective) could certainly be in Astronomy, and so on. Also, Brown is employing a curious double standard when he allows certain courses on social change to exist in his department, such as Soc Rel 245 (Seminar: Change, its Social Psychology and Management Implications, offered with the Business School)--but not those that espouse radical social change.

Several more recent arguments have been voiced by Brown for moving the courses into Gen Ed: "The two courses raise a number of questions of educational policy which are too large to be decided by any one department." The last time Brown took this tack, this fall, he was attempting to get rid of 148--but failed. Although the course had been approved by the department and by Dean Ford before school began and by the CEP in late September, Brown referred it to the CEP again on October 9. The CEP approved it for a second time, with Dean Ford calling the course "a valuable experiment." The CEP had certain reservations about the course's "encouraging certain political points of view" but felt Harvard students could handle it.

The "questions of educational policy" Brown refers to are: 1) Soc Rel 149 espouses a particular political position, 2) it gives academic credit for political activism, 3) its sectionmen are "unqualified"--undergraduates without Corporation appointment are allowed to lead sections, 4) it is an "experimental college for a coalition of different interests," 5) it has irregular grading procedures.

Wilcox and his Committee on General Education are not in the habit of setting educational policy for the entire Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The CEP does that. The CEP has heard most of these arguments raised before by Brown and took no action to stop the course, instead sending the matter back to the department. The Soc Rel Department, naturally, is not eager to lay down rules (which would affect them too) about who should be qualified to be a section man in a course. In certain instances, Soc Rel professors may want to use persons who are not Soc Rel graduate students as section men (at least one does now).

Several of Brown's arguments are deja vu-- they have already been heard before and settled. After long consultations during the fall, the course leaders decided to abandon plans for a system of "nonsense" grading in some sections, and agreed to grade "evaluatively," according to the department's own criteria. Suddenly, Brown raises the grading issue again. Again, the "qualified" section man argument goes back to July, when the department agreed to have persons other than Soc Rel graduate students teach sections if they were not paid. Again, this issue was settled with 148 in the fall.

The business about being an activist course was settled at the beginning of the spring also, when the department agreed to allow a section on Community Organizing that would work closely with participants in the Cambridge Rent Control drive. Many other Harvard courses have people get credit for actually doing things--Hum 105 (The Literature and Practice of the Drama) is one obvious example.

BROWN says that 149 is an "experimental college" or a "hodgepodge" of unrelated sections. The sections (there are 40 of them, ranging from general social critiques of America as in 148 to "Sex Role Oppression" and "The Cultural Revolution in China") do have a coherence--they all have a specific point of view on radical social change, a point of view that was expressed in theory in 148 and in many "Overview" sections of 149 and now is being continued from a case study methodology in the bulk of 149 sections. And the course is tied together. There are weekly meetings of the entire course for two hours on Thursday nights, in addition to the four hours of section per week. The section men and any interested students meet as a Steering Committee on Friday afternoons for two to three hours to discuss ways to integrate the course and hash out teaching problems. There is even a course newsletter distributed weekly.

Roger Brown is correct when he says that Soc Rel 148 and 149 espouse a particular political position. Jack Stauder and the other course leaders will readily admit this. But is this something new and surprising for a Harvard course? What Government course does not espouse a particular political position? What Economics course? What Soc Rel course, even? No one is required to agree with the position, just as no one is required to agree with Walzer's theory of loyalty in Gov 104 or Neustadt's theory of Presidential Power, but the position is presented and backed up with facts--yes, espoused.

Jack Stauder and the others teaching Social Relations 148 and 149 believe they have a specific educational task to perform--they are trying to introduce students to a body of specific empirical material, a specific philosophy of social order, a specific politics of social change. This material is rarely presented in Harvard courses, and people want to hear it, enough of them to make 149 the course with the second-largest enrollment of the spring. To teach this material, this philosophy, this brand of sociology, Stauder and the others are running up against certain Harvard conventions on grading, on section men, and so on. Soc Rel 148 and 149 are not trying to set precedents, to crusade to get Harvard to change its entire educational policy. Very simply, the course leaders believe that to get these "un-conventional" views across they must use slightly "un-conventional" methods--not methods that in any way violate Faculty regulations.

FOR EXAMPLE, Brown asks why the sections are not headed strictly by Soc Rel graduate students. But what Soc Rel grad student, in a department that does not offer courses on radical theories of social change, is "qualified" to teach such a course--except through his extracurricular contacts? The section men of Soc Rel 149 are eminently qualified to teach the material they are teaching--who can teach about modern Cuba better than a student who has been there? Who can teach about the Cultural Revolution in China better than a man who spent two years in China in the midst of it? Who knows more about organizing than an organizer? This is not to say that these are the only people who know about such things, but clearly, they know them well enough to teach them.

If Roger Brown thinks someone is unqualified to teach a section, he should be specific about it. If there have been irregularities in grading, he should say what they are. Few members of the Soc Rel Department know the first thing about what happens in the courses. They should visit them before they make this terribly important decision on Tuesday.

These courses have had a difficult time from the start. With little money, with little faculty support they have built up a large and enthusiastic following. But they have been continually harassed by a few members of the Soc Rel Department over certain minor and vague points. Since the procedural arguments against the course are so flimsy, it can only be assumed that those who oppose it do so because they do not agree with the course's politics. If this is true, and if the Social Relations faculty drops the courses from its offerings, it could well be a calamitous decision for this University.

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