News

Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line

News

At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions

News

Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists

News

‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam

News

‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6

The Hell You Say

By Wesley E. Profit

President Bok should catch Hell for his decisions concerning the DuBois Institute and especially for the appointment of an advisory board to that Institute. Each and every time the struggle for the democratic rights of Black people suffers defeat at the hands of the forces supporting white supremacy within this institution, the president of the University should catch Hell. When President Bok places himself at the head of this small but determined band of modern day "Tawneyites," as he has recently done, his authority should be challenged, and if need be, broken. That challenge should be mounted by all those who will have no truck with a Harvard that could find DuBois himself "unqualified" for tenure. This challenge must be directed against all those Harvard administrators who fell that the Afro-American Studies Department has no rights that they are bound to respect. Those who seem to spend their whole lives denying to others the simple rights that they themselves already possess should find no measure of tolerance within a community committed to ideals of equality and justice.

There can be no freedom to legitimize discrimination based on race. There is only the swagger of privilege and it is immutably political. It is privilege founded by the whip and the rope, erected by the few against the many, the self-styled "meritocrats" against the opponents of a racist meritocracy. It is a privilege which must be resolutely fought and just as resolutely rejected if offered. To do otherwise is to participate in the subjugation of the many at the behest of the few.

Though many (President Bok included, no doubt) would shun the sub-vocalizings of the more inept ideologues of white supremacy--the geneticists of a new type (scientists in name, white supremacists in deed)--a frank appraisal of the situation suggests that their influence at Harvard is stronger than Harvard's public liberal image admits. How they came to wield such power, even in the presidents' office, is a mystery which at this point only President Bok can unravel. Although some clues in that mystery can only be provided by President Bok, I would like briefly to locate a few essential components of that mystery.

The administration is attempting to cut off the Department of Afro-American Studies from other academic departments, the better to institute a special set of procedures for dealing with that department's affairs. This isolation is reinforced by the failure of other departments to hire Black faculty. It is promoted by those who would like to confine the sixties "Negro problem" to a single department. It is to accelerate this process that the president has acted.

Predictably, certain opportunists (how else to call them?) have begun preaching desertion of Harvard's bleached crimson banner, pegging their reasons to the ever changing climate of the gathering storm of controversy. No sooner did the cloud break than they scurried to higher ground, hoping to ride out the struggle. Like all true Christians, when the earth begins to shake, they look skyward for deliverance. They confess a change of heart while still supporting the administration's policies. They well know what is meant when it is said, "as the sun sets on your bloated master's careers, go and seek your graves in history by the torch of the national liberation struggles."

Other people persist in seeing moral issues where there are none. For the democratic rights of Black people are not to be secured by a moral system but a political one. Even Abraham Lincoln, no freedom fighter he, grasped this point: "If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would also do that." Indeed, 330 years of political struggle will not be disturbed by days on end of moral posturing. What is needed is action of a decisive type.

To investigate the present situation is to confront the highly contradictory "logic" which guides the struggle against the democratic rights of Black people on this campus. The Bok administration has almost made a complete joke of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research. As it stands now, we are all amazed but not amused. The appointment of the advisory board raises several points.

First, the reason for not naming Ewart Guinier, chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department, to the W.E.B. DuBois advisory board, as was stated in The Crimson, is that he is "not in sympathy with the institute." Apparently not being in sympathy with the present conception of the institute is sufficient grounds to bar one from participation. The president has said as much. Never let it be said that the administration is doctrinaire in its outlook. When the faculty of the Afro-American Studies Department repeatedly insists that appointments in the department should be in sympathy with the work of the department, this criterion has been universally rejected by every administratively constituted body that has come into contact with the department, including the Faculty search committee, which Dean Rosovsky recently disbanded. Has Bok recently acquired enlightenment or is this simply an old double standard?

It should be spelled out. For the DuBois Institute, operating out of the president's office, one must be in sympathy with the concept, otherwise it would be an imposition to ask you to serve; to serve in the Afro-American Studies Department, however, one need not be in sympathy with the concept, one can even be a European historian with spurious credentials in Afro-American Studies a la Professor Lewis. It matters only that you be willing to serve--and in two departments at that, joint appointments being an implicit part of the bargain.

Bad management, bordering on outright incompetence, a hallmark of the Bok administration, can explain some but not all of the failure to consult the Afro-American Studies Department on the appointments to the W.E.B. Institute's Advisory Board. Better management could have staved off some of the present controversy by appointing at least one member of the department to the advisory committee of the institute. Apparently there was such an attempt, though the person was not yet a member of the department, and alas, the best laid plans of mice and men....

The problem, however, lies much deeper than such a superficial attempt at conflict-management can resolve. It will remain a problem even if Bok succeeds in naming someone from the department to the advisory board. Bok gave assurances that the department would have an input into the development of the institute. His appointments to the advisory board make a mockery of those assurances. As powerful as President Bok is, neither he nor the Humpty Dumpty of "Alice in Wonderland" can make words mean exactly what they want them to. to make good on his assurances would require the scrapping of the present board and a fresh start. Certainly if this were done, a more relevant criteria for selection of board members might emerge. From an examination of the people listed, with only a few exceptions, one might conclude that faithful service to the president, willingness, ignorance, and outright hostility to Afro-American studies, in varying degrees and with different mixtures, were the determining factors. Hopefully with proper consultation, those criteria would change.

In all fairness to the present members of the advisory board, the situation is not their fault and one would do better not to criticize the specifics of their appointments with two exceptions. The situation on this campus is such that it is relatively easy to be ill-informed on the issues surrounding Afro-American Studies even when one has been placed at the center of that controversy. The Committee to Review the Department of Afro-American Studies set a precedence for that. Nevertheless, the way to support a call for the president to live up to his assurances of input is for board members to resign and await future developments.

The appointment of Professors Kilson and Patterson to the board of the institute is an entirely separate matter that should wake even the dead to speak. In the early stages of the department's existence, Professor Kilson gained national notoriety as an aggressive critic of Afro-American studies, Black students and so-called lower-class Blacks. He has remarked that the courses in the department were so many examples of "basketweaving." For this slander and others too numerous to mention, his appointment to the board of the DuBois Institute would be objectionable even if he refrained from contributing. His appointment is an affront to the honor of DuBois's name, an insult to the Black community, in general, and a slap in the face to the entire faculty of the Afro-American Studies Department. It is hard to conceive of a more inappropriate choice.

Professor Patterson's appointment seriously calls into question the sincerity calls into question the sincerity of Bok's public statement that a "natural relationship would evolve between the department and the institute," whatever the sense we might ascribe to that vacuous phrase. Professor Patterson has said that the department is a "concentration camp." This is an outright slander which Professor Patterson has never seen fit to correct publicly. His appointment raises a speculative point of considerable interest: If the department is a concentration camp, how should the natural relationship between the department and the institute evolve?

The board appointments, either in their entirety or in specific cases, however, are not the overriding issue. The issue remains the fundamental one of the conception of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute. This is the issue on which we should focus our attention.

The Afro-American Studies Department in order to do its work needs tenured professors and research money. The two are inextricable. Having the DuBois Institute within the department as the original prospectus of 1969 called for would solve the problem of research money. Not imposing joint appointments would solve the problem of securing tenured faculty for the department.

If Bok's word is to be believed, money is going to be very difficult to raise. Yet by some perverse logic, Bok and his committees, by separating the institute from the department, have pursued a strategy designed to place the department in an either/or competition with the institute. Either one gives money to the institute or one gives money to the department. Such a position could hardly be called logical though it apparently passes for logic. With increasingly scarce resources such a strategy makes no sense unless one envisions either the death of the department or of the institute, or of both. Might one not suggest that the force behind this "logic" seems to be similar to that which animated Professor Dunlop on this matter. At a time when there was money from the Ford Foundation to fund the DuBois Institute, while it was still attached to the department, the then dean, Dunlop, did not pass this information on, saying, in direct contradiction to this fact, that foundations were not interested in funding an institute unless it was university-wide. Yet when an official of the Ford Foundation said that there had been no such stipulation attached to its funding, the dean was never called to task. Of course, this was pre-Watergate and since then one presumes that the public appetite for prevarication has greatly diminished.

It seems that the plan to separate the W.E.B. DuBois Institute from the Afro department has no relationship to funding whatsoever. In fact it is being advocated despite the realities of both present, past and future funding possibilities. It appears that the separation of the DuBois Institute from the department is being encouraged as a way to increase competition between the department and the institute rather than minimize it. This competition is not only damaging to both, it is unnecessary and artificially contrived.

The imposition of joint appointments is a similarly damaging contrivance. Objectively it gives the department a second-class status amongst other departments in the University since no other department has such a virtual requirement. That fact could be ignored if it were not for the additional fact that other departments have such an abysmal record on the hiring of Black faculty. A look at the results of the affirmative action efforts of these departments would show that. It does not make sense to saddle the Afro-American Studies Department with the poor efforts of other departments. Yet the University's chief affirmative action officer, Walter J. Leonard, insists on terming the Afro-American Studies Department--the only department that meets the affirmative action guidelines--"crippled." Surely the "cripple" departments, viewed from this perspective, must be those without a single Black faculty member, tenured or otherwise.

What emerges from this discussion of the current situation is a university administration, led by its president, hell-bent on betraying Black people and their democratic rights to the forces within the faculty and administration that voted against the Afro-American Studies Department in 1969. Equality of access to educational resources did not mean then nor does it mean now access to a classroom in which Black history is absent or denigrated. Equality has always meant the right to determine a program of education best suited to the needs of a given community. It is this right which was voted on in 1969. I, for one, refuse to believe that 251 members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted for a program of Black studies out of "fear." This vicious rumor, a tenet of conservative faith, must be laid to rest. I believe, instead, that they voted out of an analysis of the importance of Afro-American Studies and an understanding of how best to secure a serious pursuit of that objective. This understanding has been conspicuously absent from the present discussions--perhaps now out of fear of reprisal from administrative sources.

In 1969, Faculty conservatives argued that Afro-American studies should not have departmental status at Harvard, but rather should be directed by a committee composed of Faculty members from the established departments. With the reduction of the number of tenured faculty promised the department, with the separation of the DuBois Institute from the department and with the imposition of joint appointments, the conservatives have moved ever closer to a realization of their original proposal. A 1973 Faculty vote that barely reaffirmed the continuation of Afro-American studies as a department is the only thing standing between the conservatives in the Faculty and the complete success of this white-supremacist project. It does not require a conspiracy theory to say that some conservative faculty members in conjunction with some administrators have been working since 1969 to sabotage the construction of the Afro-American Studies Department and to erase the effects of what they saw as a temporary setback.

Finally we come to dwell on what should be an insignificant point--a simple matter of common courtesy. You, Mr. Bok, occupying the president's chair, are responsible for being aware of the subtleties of protocol. Is it more than chance that you neglected to place a phone call to the chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department before announcing the appointments to the advisory board? Do you normally cause chairpeople of University departments to find out about decisions of such magnitude through a newspaper? That is what you did in the case of the Afro-American Studies Department. For that affront alone, you should catch Hell. Nous n'avons pas garde less cochons ensemble.

Wesley E. Profit '69 is a teaching fellow in the Afro-American Studies Department.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags