The DuBois Institute: Still a Political Football

Walter J. Leonard, a special assistant to President Bok and the chairman of Bok's advisory committee on the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research, says that for the past five years the Institute has been treated as a "political football." He says his major concern now is to "depoliticize" the Institute, which is still on the drawing board despite predictions that it would open during the 1970-71 academic year, and finally get the show on the road.

But whether he likes it or not, the DuBois Institute continues to be a political football, and Leonard, as the administration's spokesman on the matter, is right in the middle of the fray. The Leonard committee's report on the Institute, submitted to Bok last December and made public during the spring, drew intense criticism from a student-faculty coalition and no resolution to the debate is yet in sight.

The University committed itself to funding the black-studies center back in 1969, at the same time it decided to charter the Afro-American Studies Department. The Faculty approved a prospectus for the Institute, written by the Standing Committee to Develop Afro-American Studies, in September 1969. At the end of that year President Nathan M. Pusey '28 appointed an interdepartmental committee to oversee the Institute's development. It was at this point that the University's DuBois troubles began.

At issue was who would control the development process. Ewart Guinier '33, chairman of the Afro Department, wanted his department to take the leading role in the Institute during its formative years. Guinier felt that Afro's development depended to a large extent on the resources of the Institute, and he believed that legislation passed by the Faculty in 1969 backed him up on this point. Pusey evidently had other ideas. The president expected that the university itself would keep control over the Institute, and apparently the administration did not want to back down. Dean of the Faculty John T. Dunlop told Guinier that the Ford Foundation was willing to fund the Institute, but only on the condition that it be established on a University-wide basis. The Crimson learned later that the Ford Foundation had in fact suggested that it might fund the research center, but Foundation spokesmen said that no condition of any sort was placed on the contribution.

In any case, the conflict between Guinier and the central administration took its toll. Guinier, who had been appointed by Pusey to chair the committee overseeing DuBois's development, refused to convene the Faculty committee until the administration changed its stand. Neither the administration nor Guinier would budge, and for nearly two years no action was taken on the Institute's behalf.


A break in the impasse finally developed a year and a half after Derek Bok succeded Pusey as Harvard's president. In January 1972, the Faculty voted to establish the DuBois Institute on a University vote, saying "DuBois's name should not be defamed by someone who doesn't believe in the pride of race for which he lived," but after the Faculty vote he was no longer in a position to frustrate the administration's intentions.

Two months later President Bok used this opening to appoint a new committee to take over the planning of the Institute. Bok named Walter Leonard as the committee's chairman, and asked Guinier to serve as one of its seven members. Despite speculation that he would refuse the appointment, Guinier attended all of the committee's meetings.

The Leonard Committee, after meeting regularly for eight months, submitted its report to Bok on December 21. Less than a week later Guinier followed with a letter of his own to Bok. In his letter Guinier expressed his disapproval of the report and claimed that the report's failure to recommend any formal ties between the DuBois Institute and the Afro-American Studies Department would be a "death-blow" to the department. Guinier also charged that the committee was never allowed to vote on the full report, a charge which Leonard denied.

All of a sudden it was the fall of 1969 once more with the debate started all over again. But there was one difference this time: Student groups, particularly the United Committee of Third World Organizations, took the issue to heart and joined in the attack against the Leonard Committee's proposals.

The Leonard report is a six-page document which states that the Institute will operate under "the aegis of the President and Fellows of the University"; it does not make any specific reference to the Afro-American Studies Department. Among the recommendations included in the report are:

* The appointment of an Institute director to implement the Institute's policy and oversee its growth;

* The appointment of three additional Institute senior fellows by the third year of the Institute's existence;

* The appointment of an advisory board composed of Harvard faculty, leading scholars in the field of Afro-American studies and other members of the black community;

* The creation of visiting, research and Institute fellowships; and,

* The establishment of a $5-6 million capital fund drive to finance the new Institute.

An introduction to the report states that the Institute's purpose is to further knowledge and understanding of the black experience in America by maintaining "the highest academic standards" and

Guinier called the report's failure to recommend a tie between Afro and the institute a "death-blow."