The Task Force on Affirmative Action: Building a Mass Movement

By the Members of the Task Force on Affirmative Action

During the late 1950s and through the decade of the '60s, the mass movement of women and oppressed nationalities to secure democratic rights forced concessions from the federal government in the way of national programs and laws. The intent was to rectify historical mistreatment and exclusion and to guarantee full opportunities and rights. Due to the mass militant pressure of women and oppressed nationalities, the "government for the people" was forced to answer calls for justice and equality, and charges of hypocrisy and failure to guarantee democratic rights. One of the important victories achieved was the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

One very significant component of the Civil Rights Act is Title VII, Executive Order 11246, Revised Order 4, appropriately known as Affirmative Action.

What exactly is Affirmative Action? Affirmative Action (AA) is a program with the purpose of achieving equal opportunity for all in education and employment. AA means more than ensuring non-discrimination. Its objectives as stated in Revised Order 4 are clear:

"An Affirmative Action program is a set of specific and result oriented procedures which a contractor commits himself to apply every good faith effort. The object of these procedures plus such efforts is equal employment opportunity. Procedures without effort to make them work are meaningless; and effort; undirected by specific and meaningful procedures is inadequate. An acceptable AA program must include analysis of areas within which the contractor is deficient in the utilization of minority groups and women, and further, goals and time tables to which the contractor's good faith efforts must be directed to correct the deficiencies and, thus to increase materially the utilization of minorities and women at all levels and in all segments of his workforce where deficiencies exist."

Precisely stated, AA mandates that a greater amount of effort be made to recruit qualified female and minority applicants. AA requires that the proportion of minorities and women at any job level reflects the proportion of qualified minorities and women available. AA does not mean hiring unqualified persons, nor is it a quota system which merely requires an institution to fill a certain number of minorities and women. AA will not tolerate excuses and procrastination but immediately requires that steps be taken to eliminate all forms of discrimination, direct of indirect.


What is Harvard's relation to AA? As defined, any employer who employs 50 or more people and receives $50,000 or more in Federal funds, must have a written AA plan that meets federal requirements. According to the Oct. 20, 1975 issue of The Crimson, "Harvard last year (1974) received federal aid totaling $72.5 million --the fourth largest sum given to any U.S. university or college." Thus, Harvard is obligated to do the following:

1) Harvard must analyze the availability pools of qualified women and minorities for all areas of employment in the University in order to determine if women and minorities are being underutilized at any level.

2) Harvard must set goals for hiring more women and minorities in deficient areas.

3) Harvard must take under consideration "minorities and women not currently in the workforce having requisite skills who can be recruited thru AA measure." (Revised Order 4)

4) Harvard must take measures to actively disseminate its policy internally and externally by informing employees, minorities and women's organizations of its AA policies, publishing progress reports and articles about AA efforts and meeting with management and supervisory personnel to explain the policy and their responsibility for its effective implementation.

These are a few examples of what the federal law states--they are hardly unreasonable requirements.

However, Harvard's policy since November 1973 (Its AA plan was finally accepted by HEW after two draft rejections) has been very weak on paper and even weaker in practice.

In response to Harvard's historic practices of discrimination and its lack of progress after several years under it AA plan, the Task Force on Affirmative Action was formed in the Fall of '75. The Task Force was the culmination of the separate struggles waged on the Harvard campus by women's groups, organizations of Blacks, Chicano, Boriqua, Native American and Asian American students, and progressive white student organizations. Many of these student activists along with some progressive faculty members, recognized the major link in these struggles as the need to unite around common interests in opposing the University's practice of discrimination. Clearly, fighting discrimination has been the most important principles of unity. A favorite tactic of the Harvard administration has been to play one organization off another, to frustrate Third World solidarity, and sequester progressive white and Third World students. The formation of the Task Force has signified the unity of these groups to put an end to this situation of divide-and-rule. It unites broad forces of students, workers and faculty in a concerted movement to end inequality of students, workers and faculty in a concerted effort to end inequality and to achieve full democratic rights for all at Harvard.

It has been evident to most conscious people at Harvard that the University's response to AA has been extremely lax. Since the adoption of an AA plan, a pattern of discrimination continues to exist. In his report to the University in the Spring of 1975, Harvard's AA officer Walter J. Leonard stated: "Not only have we not progressed a great deal since Oct. 1971 (both statistically and attitudinally), but I fear we have moved backwards from that date in a number of areas."

President Bok has made it all too clear that although he may morally support AA and believes Harvard is a better place for minority students (whom he emphasizes to mean only blacks) he is unwilling to transform verbal commitments into action. He attacks the mechanism to achieve equal opportunity as a bureaucratic hassle. He staunchly refuses to admit Harvard's noncompliance or its begrudged attitude toward AA. AA is viewed as obstructing departmental autonomy, usurping departmental authority and violating the tenet that universities are special places where government should not tamper with the education of "mind and body." This stand logically gives rise to doubts about Bok's commitment to diversity as an asset to education. The college's heavy reliance on educational testing scores to identify prospective minority candidates not only contradicts Bok's Meet the Press statement of special consideration, but will lower already depressed numbers of working class blacks who come from traditionally disadvantaged schools. Bok's explanation of the declining minority enrollment as being caused by heavy competition with other institutions over small numbers totally ignores Harvard's failure to implement AA policies. It even carries the underlying premise that these small numbers of minority students in themselves are not a sign of discrimination.