The Debate Over Black Studies Lingers After a Year of Review

The battle began without much attention in May 1971 when the Faculty Council passed a resolution calling for a review of the Afro-American Studies Department during the 1971-72 academic year.

The fact that the Council voted to set up a Review Committee was no surprise since a departmental review was mandated by Faculty legislation which created the Department in April 1969. What was significant was that the Faculty Council decided to set up the committee with members from both inside and outside of the University.

The decision was the first victory for those at Harvard who hoped the Review Committee would recommend major structural changes in the Afro-American Studies program. The group--composed of Martin Kilson, professor of Government, Orlando Paterson, professor of Sociology and Deap Epps--supported this resolution and submitted a memorandum to Dean Dunlop explaining why the review should not be carried out internally.

This group felt that the Department had been sat up hastily in 1969 without adequate discussion. Their belief was that the glaring inadequacies of the program would become evident to both the Faculty and the Committee, if a large-scale review procedure were undertaken.

Ewart Guinier, chariman of the Afro-American Studies Department, had hoped to have the review conducted quietly within the University. With a minimum of attention drawn to it, Guinier expected that the procedure could go quickly, with few changes made in the Department's administration and structure.


Guinier was seemingly caught off guard by the Faculty Council's action and it was not until this February that he criticized the Administration for the manner in which it formed the Review Committee. In the meantime, Dean Dunlop had announced the names of the eight members of the Committee at a Faculty meeting on October 19. The Committee held its first of six weekend meetings in late November.

Four of the members of the Committee--Vivian Henderson, President of Clark College in Atlanta; Louis D. Rich, a Radcliffe trustee and associate director of the College Entrance Examination Board; Andrew Billingsly, vice president for academic affairs at Howard University; and, Wade H. McCree Jr., a member of the Board of Overseers and a U.S. Appeals Court judge in Detroit--were selected from outside the University.

The other four members of the Committee came from within: Thomas F. Pettigrew, professor of Social Psychology; Harold F. Hanham, professor of History; James M. Jones, assistant professor of Social Psychology; and, Rupert Emerson, professor of Government Emeritus.

President Bok appointed McCree chairman of the Committee shortly after Dunlop announced the names of the Committee's members. Bok also named Walter Leonard, special assistant to the President, a member ex-officio of the Committee.

Through October, November and most of December, Guinier made no effort to present his views on any aspect of the Department to the Committee. He would later say in March that he felt offended during this period because the Committee had solicited comments from all those in the community at large with an interest in Harvard's program. He explained at the time that he was particularly insulted that the Committee had sent him a form letter soliciting comments on the way the Department was being administered.

Kilson, Peterson and Epps were busy during these early months of the review preparing memoranda for submission to the Committee. By mid-December, Kilson and Paterson had presented three documents to the Committee. In those, they urged that the Department be restructured to make it a joint concentration along with established disciplines like Sociology, History or Economics. They also called for joint appointments of faculty members between Afro-American Studies and other departments, which they argued, are essential to attract first rate instructors.

The memoranda urged that students be removed from all positions of administration within the Department. Students presently serve on the Standing Committee and Executive Committee of the Department, and Paterson and Kilson argued that they are not qualified to exercise scholarly authority. Since its inception, students have played a role in developing curriculum and choosing faculty members in the Department.

Guinier held his first meetings with the Committee in late December and early January. He initially withheld comment on the sessions, but in late February he said that he felt he had wasted his time talking with the Committee. He described his meetings as being little more than "social gatherings." McCree disagreed with Guinier's assessment, saying that he felt the meetings had been quite productive.

Evidently the sessions did not go well for Guinier. It is highly unlikely he would have publicly criticized the Committee if he felt his discussions with them had been fruitful. Guinier again attacked the Administration for setting up the Review Committee with people from outside the University. He called the Administration racist and said that it had not offered the assistance necessary to help the Afro-American Studies Department develop during its three-year existence.

Guinier still refused to submit any written documents to the Committee. Instead he got his daughter (a 1971 Radcliffe graduate), concentrators in the Department, and two lecturers in the Department, to submit memoranda to the Review Committee refuting the Kilson-Paterson arguments.