Affirmative (In) Action: Discrimination on the Job

Harvard personnel officers and high-level bureaucrats are constantly contending with the shadow of racial and sexual discrimination that hangs over employment practices. Stokes says that affirmative action guidelines underlie all of Harvard's hiring. Her office realizes that the burden of proof is upon the employer and consequently has made an extra effort "to both promote and protect" women and minority group applicants and employees. Arlene Regan, supervisor in the Internal Audit Department, says that people a Harvard are terribly discrimnation-conscious.

William Hoyt, director of the pension sub-department in the Office of Fiscal Services, puts it very simply: "If you have equally qualified candidates, you try to hire the minority." And, as a brief glance around offices in Holyoke Center and elsewhere will confirm, this practice is generally followed. In Hoyt's department, for example, two of the four workers are women, Minority employees, particularly black workers, are an integral part of every department in the University.

Discrimination problems among employees at Harvard are hidden. Significantly, while every personnel officer and high-level bureaucrat with hiring privileges insists that there is no discrimination in his or her department, they will not vouch for others. The general feeling is that discrimination does exist, but everyone is quick to point out it is not in his nest. Nevertheless, there are two noticeable types of this "hidden" discrimination--above and beyond the indubitable predominance of white males in the ranks of senior administrators and tenured faculty.

As an educational institution, Harvard faces the unique problem of hiring students to do a great deal of part-time and summer work. To the extent that the student body does not represent all minorities in equal proportions, explains Eric Kurtz, Harvard's director of analytic studies, those workers chosen are unrepresentative. "It's hard sometimes to develop a good pool of applicants," he says.

Another type of "hidden discrimination" is present in promotion practices. A middle-level black woman employee says, "Promotion is basically centered not around what you know but who you know." There is more than a tinge of anger and frustration in her voice. A college degree she explains, invariably takes precedence to experience. In the student term bill department, for example, there are no women supervisors. The supervisor is Dartmouth-educated J.P. Mensel--a young, white male. Mensel spent a year working in the hotel business before he came to Harvard. Robert Scott, director of the Office for Financial Assistance, notes that, "I've never felt discriminated against as a white male."


Harvard employees don't do anything about discrimination, however because clear-cut case are few and far between. There are channels for employees to take--such as requesting a formal review by the office of the associate general counsel for employee relations--but most are just too scared to go the bureaucratic route. There is no union, no bargaining power. As one employee explains, "You can't do this kind of thing alone."