Police Apprehend Armed Man and Woman in Central Square
107 Faculty Called for Review of Tenure Procedures in Letter to Dean Gay
Citing Toxic Culture and Administrator Departures, Harvard School of Public Health Faculty Repeatedly Weighed Voting No Confidence in Dean
Elizabeth Wurtzel ’89, Who Collected Friends ‘Like Beads on a String,’ Dies at 52
The Photos That Captured the 2010s
Like other Universities whose black enrollments grew dramatically during the last five years Harvard has been plagued by a continuing controversy over the role of black studies.
Under intense pressure from black students the Department was founded in the spring of 1969 Since that time it has been the subject of much discussion by scholars, here and at other schools attempting to evaluate its effectiveness.
The Faculty legislation which created the department in 1969 mandated a review at the Department's administration and structure in 1971-2. This review which began last fall when President Bok appointed a committee from both inside and outside the University was conducted throughout last year and provoked much debate.
During last year's public discussions the main participants were Martin Kilson, professor of Government, and Ewart Guinier, chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department With the Review Committee's final report almost finished, another scholar joined the debate when Azinna Nwafor, assistant professor of Afro-American Studies, released a section of a memorandum he had submitted to the Review Committee. In an interview last week. Nwafor offered additional suggestions for reforms in the Department's administration and structure.
On the issue of joint departmental majors, between Afro-American Studies and other established disciplines. Nwafor feels that it is beneficial to draw on the resources of other departments.
In his memorandum. Nwafor writes, "There surely should be no reasons why the Departments of Government History, Social Relations etc, should not be able to draw fully from the resources of our own department at the same time as we seek to extract the wealth of their resources for the benefit of our faculty and students One danger in fact, has been the underutilization by the rest of the University of the considerable abilities that have sometimes existed within the Department."
However unlike Kilson who has argued that Afro-American Studies should only be a joint concentration with an established discipline. Nwafor feels that a certain flexibility should be retained. In some cases, Nwafor expects that students can find all the courses they need to study a given area of Afro-American Studies within the Afro-American Studies Department. He believes that the department needs more structure so that a student will not be able to take courses on black poetry black music. African history and Afro-American History during a single term as he is able to do now.
Guinier has argued that requiring students to make Afro-American Studies a joint concentration with another discipline relegates it to a second class status. Contending that white universities have traditionally ignored black studies. Guinier concludes that it is necessary for serious students to take a wider range of courses in the subject taught from a black perspective." While Guinier has never defined "black perspective," it is clear from the appointments he has made that this term means that the instructor must be black and have a black nationalist ideology.
In his memorandum. Nwafor explains that presenting only a black nationalist line can lead to the development of an "intellectual apartheid" where the department is separated from the mainstream of intellectual life in the university community Nwafor states that "the impression is distinctly conveyed that a serious tudent is best served by steering clear of the offerings of the department."
In Nwafor's view, it would be highly desirable if the department were used to encourage the presentation of a radical Marxist view. He explained that this view has been stifled at Harvard and that in order to have stimulating scholarly debate, professors possessing these view should be attracted to the Department. He cited such men as Harold Cruse, professor of Afro-American Studies at Michigan, and Herbert Aptheker, professor of History at Bryn Mawr, as examples of scholars who should be drawn to the Harvard Afro-American Studies Department.
"Academic distinction should include an intellectual commitment for the liberation of blacks and other oppressed peoples. It is necessary that we begin looking at history from the bottom up, trying to understand mass movements, rather than just examining the behavior of kings and queens." Nwafor said in an interview last week.
Nwafor was careful to add "that it is essential that we not turn down any qualified person who applies--what we need more than anything else are scholars with first rate minds."
Unlike Kilson, who believes that students do not have the ability to exercise scholarly authority by serving on the Department's executive committee. Nwafor feels that if changes are made in the department's structure so that bright students are attracted, they could play an important role in the formulation of academic policy. Given the present orientation of the department. Nwafor says that the students' function now is to serve as a rubber stamp for departmental decisions.
"In the absence of alert students, it has been easy to steamroll students into silent acquiescence when, as always, they are presented with a stage managed fait accompli. As a result, intellectual nullity has often been found impressive and even popular, and all that seems demanded of candidates is that they come suitably trailing clouds of au courant nationalist fervor."
Another recommendation which Nwafor made was that the Department hire a first rate Afro-American historian. He explained that "it has not been possible to do so largely, I think, because such people as one may have had in mind to fill such posts with distinction are often seen as threats and, in any case, may not possess the requisite black-nationalist ideology--breathing fire and pleading commiseration."
Similarly, black students in the department have also urged the review committee to recommend the hiring of an Afro-American historian. In an effort to stifle some of this criticism, Guinier will this year teach the Department's course on Afro-American history from 1865 to the present. However, Guinier's courses have, never been well-attended--he usually only attracts about ten to fifteen students to his courses--and it thus seems unlikely that he can really fill this void in the Department.
To complete the development of the Department. Nwafor urged the Review Committee to recommend that a graduate program be developed and the Du Bois Institute--an Afro-American studies research institute mandated in 1969--finally be established. For the past two years Guinier has been struggling with the Administration in an effort to get them to make a financial commitment to help set up the institute. Dean Dunlop said last spring that he had no comment on Guinier's charges that the Administration was trying to bury the Du Bois Institute. "The money is not available and other than that I have nothing else to say," Dunlop explained at the time.
Nwafor concludes his memorandum by saying "the black experience should be considered in the context of a totality. It should not be treated in isolation and should indeed have meaning for all students at Harvard and it must not occupy a precarious, marginal existence on the outermost fringes of the University's intellectual life."
At this point, it is difficult to determine what course of action Kilson. Guinier and Nwafor will take once the Review Committee issues its report. But when the Committee report and any minority positions are submitted to Dunlop--who will hand it on to the Faculty council for their recommendations to the Faculty--there are sure to be more efforts to influence the votes of both bodies.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.