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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
The founding of the Afro-American Studies Department in 1969 took place in the highly-charged political atmosphere which gripped the campus in the wake of the University Hall takeover. Militant black students-- one of whom reportedly carried a concealed meat cleaver--waited somberly outside the Loeb Drama Center while a special Faculty meeting inside debated and then passed the legislation creating the Department.
By contrast, the Faculty this year restructured the Department dramatically--and virtually no protest greeted the decision. With surprisingly little controversy or debate either inside the meeting, or outside, the Faculty voted in January to effect major changes in the Department's structure and leadership.
The Faculty's vote followed the release of the Afro-American Studies Department Review Committee's report in late October. The committee-- which consisted exclusively of people outside the Department--had been meeting for a year. It issued a report that called for the Department to be integrated further into the mainstream of intellectual life at Harvard by permitting students to combine a concentration in Afro with the study of another discipline, and by using joint appointments between Afro-American Studies and other departments to attract new Faculty members.
The Faculty legislation of 1969 directed that all Faculty appointments in Afro-American Studies be in the Department and restricted joint concentrations severely.
The review committee report also recommended limiting the power of student concentrators on the Department's executive committee. Students had been given full voting rights and equal representation with Faculty on the executive committee. The report urged that the right to vote on Faculty appointments also be taken away from the students.
The review committee also took the first steps toward curbing the powers of the chairman of the Department, Ewart Guinier '33. It recommended that the chairmanship be rotated every three or four years among the Department's tenured members. In addition, it called for an extensive search for new Faculty members by search committees appointed by the dean of the Faculty.
The review committee made these recommendations hoping that the Department would recruit new tenured Faculty members by this Spring, one of whom would replace Guinier as chairman.
The report concluded by recommending that the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research be established as a consortium endeavor with other colleges and universities throughout the nation that are interested seriously in Afro- American Studies.
The report was endorsed enthusiastically by three prominent black Faculty and administrators outside the Department--Martin Kilson, professor of Government; Orlando Patterson, professor of Sociology; and, Dean Epps. The three had lobbied for their views during the review proceedings, submitting memoranda to the review committee, testifying at committee sessions, and speaking out on what they believed to be the academic weaknesses in the Department. The three had called for more extreme measures against the Department--mandatory joint appointments and joint concentrations-- but were nonetheless elated with the results.
The only member of the Afro- American Studies Department to break publicly with Guinier, Azinna Nwafor, an assistant professor, also hailed the committee's report. In a memorandum to the committee, he had called for the optional use of joint concentrations and joint appointments to pilot the Department into the mainstream of the University.
Guinier seemed shocked by the report. He refused to comment on its substance for almost two weeks after it was issued and even took an ad in The Crimson where he urged interested people to read his Department's own progress report if they were interested in his feelings on Afro-American Studies at Harvard.
In his report, Guinier opposed joint appointments and said that all appointments in Afro-American Studies should be made by the Department. Guinier also opposed reducing student power on the Department's executive committee.
Guinier's report charged that the University had failed to live up to its commitment to the Afro-American Studies Department in providing for the establishment of the DuBois Institute and in providing funds necessary to attract first-rate Faculty members.
Guinier's case was boosted when The Crimson reported last Fall that Dean Dunlop had misreported a conversation he had the year before with Harold Howe II, a vice president of the Ford Foundation. Dunlop reported to Guinier in 1971 that the Ford Foundation would not fund the DuBois Institute unless it was set up on a University-wide basis. Guinier has opposed this approach, arguing that the Faculty in 1969 directed the Department to develop the Institute.
Howe said this Fall that he never told Dunlop how the Institute should be structured. "It's not my business to tell the University how to go about its affairs," Howe told The Crimson this fall. "The only thing I might have told John is that we were interested in funding a program that would continue to function after our money ran out."
It is widely known that the crafty Dunlop has never had too high a regard for Guinier and it is likely that he told Guinier that the Institute had to be administered on a University wide basis so that the Afro Department's chairman would have less influence in its formation.
Despite this revelation, Guinier was able to do little to save his Department from the restructuring the review committee recommended. After refraining from public comment on the review committee's recommendations for two weeks, Guinier lashed out at the committee in mid November. While claiming that he had not read the report, he labelled the committee's members "nincompoops" in a sparsely attended speech in Harvard Hall.
The dearth of people at his speech pointed out a weakness Guinier had in his campaign--a total lack of student support. Despite the fact that the role and influence of students in the Department was in danger of being narrowed, Harvard-Radcliffe Afro, the black student organization, took no active role in opposing the review committee's recommendations.
Guinier's last hurrah came at the December Faculty meeting, where he delivered a stinging attack against the review committee's recommendations. His highly rhetorical speech was interrupted from the floor several times by adverse comments.
Walter Leonard, who served as the secretary of the review committee, called out that Guinier was "a damn liar" when the Afro Department chairman charged that the black members of the review committee had a "white perspective." The outburst by Leonard marked the first time that he had entered the public debate over the committee's report. Leonard has always tried to maintain a low profile publicly and apparently enjoys being regarded as a behind-the-scenes operator.
Guinier's speech did him little good and it was no surprise when the Faculty voted later to accept the substance of the review committee recommendations. The one big surprise in the vote was that the entire Afro-American Studies Faculty voted for the restructuring of the Department. Even Guinier's closest ally, Ephraim Isaac, associate professor of Afro-American Studies, failed to support the Afro chairman's position.
The only significant break with the review committee's recommendations came when the Faculty Council called for the DuBois Institute to be established on a Faculty- and University-wide basis as in the case of other comparable centers.
The Faculty also rejected by a 69-66 vote a motion by Kilson to require joint concentrations. Kilson told the Faculty it was necessary for a student to get a grounding in a traditional discipline before studying Afro- Americans.
In a rare move, President Bok intervened in the debate and asked Kilson to define a concentration. Kilson later termed Bok's question "a tendentious interjection." James S. Ackerman, professor of Fine Arts, then offered the most telling objection to the motion by arguing that the Faculty had no business telling a department how to organize its curriculum.
Kilson answered by saying that he felt it was necessary to specify joint concentration because the Department was still in the growing stages, adding that he did not anticipate the Faculty taking a similar action with respect to other Departments.
Ackerman's argument was apparently persuasive, as the motion was defeated narrowly. In comparison to the 1969 vote on establishing an Afro- American Studies Department, there was little Faculty interest this year. In 1969 over 400 Faculty members turned out for the Loeb meeting. The turnout this year was below 170. Few Faculty members seemed interested in the debate and even fewer seemed to have any knowledge of the controversy despite the attention it has generated over the past two years.
Following the vote, Bok appointed a University-wide committee to draw up plans for the DuBois Institute. Surprisingly, Guinier agreed to serve on the committee along with Leonard and Patterson. The initial sessions of the committee have been fruitful, and it is possible that Guinier has buried the hatchet and agreed to forget about the acrimonious debate which surrounded the restructuring of the Department. In announcing the committee's appointment, Bok asked it to report quickly so that he could start soliciting foundation support for the Institute.
Despite leaving for Washington, Dunlop retained control of the selection of the search committee for new Department Faculty. Dunlop in April named a Faculty-wide committee which included Guinier. Guinier again agreed to participate on the committee despite the fact that he was the only representative of his Department.
With the Afro-American Studies Department reorganized, Kilson moved on to commenting adversely on some aspects of black student life at Harvard. He wrote a feature article for the April issue of the Harvard Bulleting and planned to follow it up with a second part in the May issue. However, the Bulletin editor, John T. Bethell '54, released galley proofs of the article to four black students who came back to him with seven alleged factual errors. Bethell checked out two of the allegations and found that Kilson was in error. He then decided to postpone publication of the article until the June issue so that certain facts could be rechecked.
Robin Schmidt, assistant for public affairs, directed the Harvard News Office to call The New York Times Magazine, to whom Kilson had submitted a revised and extended version of his Bulletin article, and inform its staff of the black students' objections. The black students had told Schmidt of their objections and he offered to put them in touch with The Times.
Finally, Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, called the Bulletin to find out who owned the copyright to Kilson's article. Steiner said that the black students had asked him who owned the article and he called simply to respond to their question. He also said that he wanted to make sure that no misstatements were made about the University if Harvard owned the copyright.
Kilson responded with anger to these Administration moves. In a complaint filed with the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities and the Commission of Inquiry May 28, he alleged that these actions by Steiner, Schmidt and Leonard (who Kilson said also made inquiries about the ownership of the copyright) represented "a patent violation of my intellectual rights and thus transgressed the Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities," which governs intellectual relationships at Harvard.
Kilson charged that the actions "amounted to a form of intellectual coercion inasmuch as the purpose was to harass, limit, or suppress publication by me of a version of my Bulletin articles in The New York Times Magazine."
Kilson said he did not file charges against Bethell because Bethell had apologized to him.
It is not clear if there is any precedent for discipling administrators who do not hold an appointment in one of the faculties of the University and at this writing officials are still unsure what body will hear Kilson's complaint.
Kilson considers the dispute a major issue and he has called it the Bok Administration's "Watergate." Ironically, the head of the University Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, James Vorenberg '49, professor of Law, will probably be unable to participate in the hearing on the matter, because he is in Washington helping to investigate the real Watergate affair as a member of the staff of Archiblad Cox '34, Williston Professor of Law and the attorney general's special prosecutor.
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