Less than 30 days after the smoke cleared from the gun that killed Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, John S. Harwell received a call from a Harvard administrator inviting him to become an admissions officer for minority students at Harvard. The first question the administrator asked was: "Are you, in fact, black?"
This is but one response, if a typical one, by white academia to the integration of predominantly white universities. Such responses span the entire range of black-white relationships at institutions of higher learning--from active recruitment to outright condescension.
Following the civil-rights protests of the late sixties, universities moved to integrate their campuses, and white schools actively sought blacks. However, many recently-appointed black administrators and professors seem dissatisfied with their roles.
Many blacks at Harvard feel they have little power and hold only token positions; some even believe that racism is prevalent. Others think that the recruitment of blacks in the late sixties was a "stop-gap" effort to appease student demands, and consequently feel these hastily appointed officials may be less competent than their peers. And some blacks also find that too much is expected of them by superiors, colleagues and students.
Black administrators usually hold positions with titles like assistant dean or associate director, offices that they say lack real authority. The jobs have often been tacked on to the existing power structure, and many blacks say that they are not part of the University's bloodstream.
Such administrators are restricted to dealing with minority affairs and thus are isolated from the general decision-making process. Not only are their posts limited in scope, but they also fail to provide the training needed for advancement. A number of blacks believe they are in little more than dead-end jobs.
Walter J. Leonard, special assistant to President Bok, says, "The black administrator must be careful not to become an appendage or an expedient--the academic spook who sat by the door. [He] may be forced to become the sole keeper of minority affairs, to the exclusion of other burning affairs in today's academic revolution--or evolution. This possibility is a form of solitary self-confinement."
Like Leonard, Alvin Poussaint, associate professor of Psychiatry and associate dean for student affairs at Harvard Medical School, says he thinks that blacks are hindered by their titles. In a recent article in The Black Scholar magazine, Poussaint wrote, "Most of these [special] positions focus on public relations activities rather than on academics."
Sharing Leonard's and Poussaint's view is Ewart Guinier '33, chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department. "Black administrators here are powerless," Guinier said.
However, Martin L. Kilson, professor of Government, challenges this opinion, maintaining that there is no racist barrier to his authority, and says he feels that "blacks who think they are powerless are suffering from pathological paranoia."
The view that blacks lack power appears to be supported by the high percentage of blacks holding assistant positions. More than a third of all those listed in the Harvard directory of blacks have jobs whose titles are prefaced by the word acting, assistant, or associate. This situation lends credibility to the theory of black powerlessness.
Not only is there a feeling that blacks are powerless, but there is a general consensus among black administrators that tokenism exists at Harvard--a charge that received some substantiation from an examination of the directory of blacks at Harvard. It contains only 87 names. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences alone has 800 members.
If tokenism is present at Harvard, then it may well be a manifestation of racism at a liberal university. Harvard has often been criticized as racist; Guinier claims that "Harvard is saturated with racism."
Some blacks at Harvard, though, do not agree with Guinier's view. Kilson insists that any racism that may be present is "not fundamental" and "is essentially residual." Orlando Patterson, professor of Sociology, also agrees that there is no organized discrimination against qualified blacks.
A more moderate view is that of Derrick A. Bell Jr., professor of Law. Bell says that Americans have developed the impression that whites are superior to blacks, and he says this makes it difficult to recognize that blacks are not incompetent simply because they are black. "I don't think that Harvard is any more racist than the society--maybe not any worse, but certainly not any better," Bell said.