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Kilson and Guinier Debate The Role of Black Studies

By Douglas E. Schoen

In their first face-to-face debate since the establishment of the Afro-American Studies Department, Martin L. Kilson, professor of Government, and Ewart Guinier '33, chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department, engaged in a heated discussion yesterday over the role of black studies at Harvard.

Appearing on a local New York City television program, "Positively Black", Kilson and Guinier both presented their views of the way an Afro-American Studies curriculum should be organized.

As he has in the past, Kilson said that it was necessary for students to get a grounding in a discipline before beginning the study of Afro-American Studies.

"To succeed in post-industrial society, one needs highly complex analytical skills," Kilson said.

"We must redefine black studies so that it is not just an ideological tool giving blacks a new sense of their worth," he added.

Guinier, also sticking to a position he has articulated in the past, said, "What Martin wants to do is to put the study of the history and culture of black people into the hands of white folks who have been keeping that study out or distorting it or lying about it."

He cited the English and Economics Departments as examples of faculties which have ignored blacks. He said that neither Department has a black instructor or teaches courses relating to the black experience.

Guinier said that in his Department "We study the black experience from the point of view of the people who have lived that experience."

During the debate, Guinier repeatedly lashed out at Kilson. In his opening statement, Guinier said that Kilson "shouts loudly about rigorous thought, standards, and superior white universities, all the while encouraging people to think of him as a major scholar."

"But if one looks at his writing," Guinier said, "it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that his qualities of mind are not those one comes to expect from superior thinkers."

Throughout the debate, Kilson made little effort to respond to Guinier's assertions about his scholarly abilities. However, at one point he complained that Guinier was not letting him "get a word in edgewise" and in his closing statement he said "I am certainly not as much of an ideologue as Ewart Guinier."

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