Promises To Keep

OF THE 550 students who entered the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences this Fall, only eight are black. This figure helps explain why Harvard will have difficulty fulfilling even the modest commitment to minority hiring made in the latest version of its affirmative action plan. Even though the plan--which is incredibly weak--has finally been accepted by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare after three years, numerous major revisions and $250,000 in costs, its success in guaranteeing that a significantly greater number of women and minority group members will fill higher level Harvard positions is scarcely assured.

There has been much misunderstanding about the affirmative action program and Harvard's relationship to it. HEW has asked institutions receiving federal funds--Harvard receives $66 million annually--to create a plan to end discrimination in the hiring of women and minority group members. In addition, HEW wants these institutions to draw up goals and timetables to increase the pace of minority and woman hiring--in other words, to put the plan into operation. The government threatens, but virtually never acts, to cut off federal funds of an institution which drags its feet on affirmative action.

The goals and timetables are not quotas. It is entirely possible that an institution could produce a plan, complete with reasonable goals, than widen its search procedures and still fail to hire more minorities and women. The plan is merely a promise, a pledge that need not bear fruit.

How will Harvard live up to its pledge? The question really requires two answers, one for minority group members, one for women, for the discrimination the two groups have faced here are of different sorts. Women have never really had difficulty finding jobs at Harvard--it is the kind of work to which they have been restricted that has been so objectionable. Some 90 per cent of the clerical workers here are women, but they hold fewer than 10 per cent of the academic posts. Blacks and other minority group members have historically fared more poorly in both areas. Harvard has made strides in recent years in hiring more minority group members for clerical and maintenance jobs--the Building and Grounds Department for example, with four per cent black employees in the middle sixties, is now almost 11 per cent black. But the University's performance in hiring blacks for higher level positions has been dismal, saved only from complete failure by the formation of the Afro-American Studies Department and the consequent employment of a number of black faculty members to staff it.

Department chairmen attribute their poor showing in moving forward with affirmative action to a lack of qualified women and minority group members. That is why the infinitesimal number of blacks entering the GSAS is cause for such alarm--with a tiny pool of minority group members from which to choose, Harvard can continue claiming it cannot find qualified people. The problem regarding women is different but equally serious; although more women attend the GSAS, they are concentrated in a handful of departments, thus also sharply limiting the size of the applicant pool. To be sure, Harvard does not recruit all its Faculty from the GSAS, but the Graduate School is a national pacesetter--advances there would help influence improvement in other schools.


Badgering and pressure from the Administration can probably override recalcitrant department chairmen and force limited improvement toward the modest goals called for in the just-approved plan, a plan which is still inadequate. The present proposal does not provide for salary equity review in the case of salary differentials between men and women. It contains cumbersome and intimidating grievance procedures and weak management training programs. HEW still requests further analysis of Harvard's tenure-granting procedures. A number of women's organizations have already filed objections to the plan for these and other reasons.

But even a rectification of the weaknesses in the present plan would not be enough. Harvard's responsibilities do not end with the grudging fulfillment of this mild set of promises. Certainly, the women in the Radcliffe Admissions Office deserve the same salaries as their male counterparts at Harvard, but just as certainly, Harvard has an obligation to greatly increase the number of minority group members in the GSAS and work to remove the various obstacles discouraging women from entering a wider variety of academic fields. These measures, which would help guarantee real racial and sexual equality in hiring by enlarging the pool of applicants for academic positions, are not called for in the plan, but they should be implemented swiftly anyway. It is time Harvard's plans for affirmative action move from the perfunctory to the sincere.