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To the Editors of The Crimson:
Anticipating the release of the report on the Afro-American Studies Department by the Review Committee of the last academic term, I feel that a letter representing the views of the Black students on campus concerning this issue is in order.
During the 1971-72 school year, the Studies Department received severe criticism from numerous segments of the University. In response to much of this criticism, the concentrators of the Department issued a statement to the Review Committee which spoke not only for the concentrators themselves, but also for the Black population of this campus. In this statement, it was made clear that the primary source of the Department's "faults" and "weaknesses" lay in the lack of University support for the work of the Department. It should have been evident to anyone who would give a cursory glance at the history of the Department that the University has continually failed to meet its commitments. Yet, upon returning to the college this fall, I find that this is not the case, and that nothing has changed in terms of the attitude of the members of the University toward the Department.
In the 1972 Confidential Guide to Harvard, published by The Crimson. I found many of the gross misrepresentations of issues and exaggerations of the facts that have constantly been used in attempts to degrade and belittle the Department and its members. I am unsure as to whether the article is the result of someone's personal problems with the Department; but I feel that, no matter what the situation, the description of the Department is concomitant with all of the previous deprecatory remarks about that Department and as such cannot be allowed to exist unchallenged.
First of all, the article says that no one can be found to teach many of the courses, hence, many of the courses are bracketed in the catalogue, giving the Department a shaky appearance that reflects its basic instability. Yet no mention is made of the facts that one, the University gave the Department the same budget for the 72-73 academic year as it did in the 71-72 session, despite the natural salary insurance of many of the present staff, the rise in administrative costs, the growing nature of a Department only three years old, etc. And two, the last that many qualified professors in Afro-American Studies are not at this University as a result of the prohibitive hiring practices of the University in light of the great demand for instructors in this field. Many qualified professors cannot live off the prestige that Harvard University bentown and would prefer to work where the money is.
The article goes on to give the impression that the Department wants to have no association with white people. Yet it falls to inform its readers that many white professors have either taught in some classes or have appeared at the University under the auspices of the Department. Also, the article states that "in its history, there have been only 2 or 3 white concentrators in the Department," giving the impression that hundreds of other concentrators exist. In fact, there is a greater percentage of white concentrators in the Department than there is of black students in the college.
Next, the article directly suggests that the subjects taught under the Department are of no intellectual value, using the term "gut" to describe nearly all of its courses. Regarding the specific course mentioned, the correct statistics available at the studies department were: A-.25 per cent, B+ to D, 50 per cent. In comparison with other courses in the college, there exists no evidence that the Afro-American Studies Department's grade sheet is higher or lower than that of any other department. I suggest that authors of future articles on the Department use more reliable sources than jocks in Eliot and Winthrop House. So much has already been said to demonstrate the academic worth of the Department that I feel it useless to elaborate on this point further.
Incorrectly the article attempts to portray Professor Guinier as an ignorant dictator. It is erroneously stated that Professor Guinier is the only full professor not holding a doctorate degree. My research found that several such professors exist--perhaps the most not able being Professor Erik Erikson. Professor Guinier's background speaks for itself, and he has no need of my supportive statements regarding his value. In terms of who runs the Department, however, I must say that the article makes no use of information already in print on the subject. The author fails to note that students have played as great or greater a role in the Department's existence since it began as have any faculty member or members.
Finally, the author boldly states that many of the courses "force students to take a radical political position." If this were the case, in terms of radical politics, this University could be in great turmoil right now. As a concentrator in the Department thoroughly familiar with its operations and having known nearly all of the faculty in the Department. I feel I can say with no doubt whatsoever that none of the courses I have viewed have forced me to take any "radical" positions. The only "radical" element of the Department is that it offers a Black perspective in a white institution of the a white world.
I'd like to say that in the introduction to the Confi Guide, it was suggested that readers take the articles with a grain of salt. With respect to the article on the Afro-American Studies Department, I would like to suggest that readers of its use several tons of salt and pepper in order to balance its failures. Kevin Mercadel '74 Endorsed unanimously by the members of Afro
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