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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.
These sentiments are echoed by James M. Jones, lecturer on Sociology, who charges that "America is a racist country, and Harvard is a racist institution."
It seems quite possible that Harvard is a reflection of society. It is unrealistic to believe that the practices of an institution can be radically different from those of the society in which it exists. America has had a history of racism dating back to the colonial period, and Harvard has evolved with the country--a fact that has surely shaped Harvard's integration policies.
The relation of Harvard's policy to American mores appears to be demonstrated by the timing of the Harvard integration effort. The University did not actively attempt to integrate in the 1940s or 1950s. It was not until the late sixties--a period in which students were protesting the Vietnam War, occupying office buildings and demanding greater minority representation on college campuses--that Harvard began seeking black professors and administrators.
Apparently, blacks regard the appointments of the sixties as a response to minority-student pressure. John S. Harwell, for one, now associate director of admissions, attributes his appointment to Harvard's reaction to student protests.
Bell, who in 1968 became the first and only tenured black professor at Harvard Law School, also agrees that much of the hiring was a direct reaction to student demands.
However, recruitment efforts have not removed the stigma from being black at Harvard. Recently-appointed professors and administrators often feel they are considered to be less qualified than their white peers or blacks who came to Harvard earlier.
But in general, blacks feel strongly that there is little or no incompetence among them. Kilson says, "All of us are of as good a quality or better (than whites)." Furthermore, Harwell says that "today I have no reason to believe that appointments are made with an eye to diffusing potential protest."
Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, expresses a different view, however: "Some are not as competent and were appointed as a result of student demands."
Whether or not Epps's opinion has been taken to heart by the administration is uncertain, but according to Bell, the original movement to increase the number of blacks at the college has died down. Bell says he believes that the gradual demise of the effort has adversely affected the credibility of blacks already here. "The longer a black teacher remains the only one in a department, the more eroded his credibility becomes," Bell says.
He explains that the colleagues and students of a lone black professor quickly forget his credentials, and that the longer he remains alone, the more likely they are to remember that he was recruited for his position. Thus, they are more likely to believe that he is incompetent.
Bell also says that blacks have greater difficulty in gaining the confidence of students. He says that the white professor earns the respect of his class simply because he is white; the black teacher, on the other hand, must win this respect every time he greets a new group of students.
This inability to gain the respect of a class stems from what blacks say they consider to be the failure of the whites to accept them on an equal intellectual level.
Bell says this is particularly true of women, although he says he feels it is more true for all blacks than for women as a group. Not only is this the case at Harvard, but according to Bell, the situation prevails at predominantly-white universities across the country.
Some blacks say they find their intellectual endeavors disturbed by the administration, which they claim wants them to be "superblacks." They are expected to serve on committees, work with recruitment and admissions offices and solve the problems of black students. However, when one is evaluated for tenure, departments examine a list of books one has written, and do not take into account the committees one has served on. Therefore, working on committees and gaining tenure are sometimes incompatible.
These ills are compounded by channeling all the problems of black students to the black administrator. Poussaint says that he handles most minority-student problems at the Medical School in part by choice, but in part by the design of the other members of the school.
Administrators and colleagues pose problems for blacks, but minority students also seem to flock to the black administrator. Walter Leonard sums up the issue when he says, "Black students expect us to be one or more or all of these things: friends, guidance counselors, academic advisers, job references, mentors, spokesmen, companions, clergymen, clerks, as well as boosters in times of trouble, and congratulators in times of success."
Finally, the black professor or administrator is caught between two groups: the faculty and administration against the black student body. He has the option of alienating one group or the other. If he supports the administration, he will be labeled an Uncle Tom; if he does not, the administration will accuse him of being partisan or militant.
The black professor or administrator then, must decide whether or not to advocate the students' views. Most black administrators at Harvard believe that they should present the students' views without supporting them. Exposure, not advocacy, is the key.
Such are the problems of the black administrator. Time and changes in the attitudes of blacks and whites on all academic and social levels may ease some of them, but until blacks have authority in all facets of the academic spectrum, the major problems will continue to exist.
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