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Sticks and Stones


By Maxine S. Pfeffer

When students heard last spring that the visiting committee to Afro-American Studies might recommend demoting Afro-Am to an interdisciplinary committee, they demonstrated to show their support for the department. The protests subsided, but this week the unexpected release of the committee's report revived an old debate. The committee did recommend that Afro-am become a commitee in light of the problems they said have plagued the department since its establishment ten years ago.

Edward N. Ney, chairman of the nine-member visiting committee, said that problems cited in the report included:

* the inability of the department to attract tenured faculty members;

* declining concentrators and enrollment in Afro-Am courses;

* the department's isolation from the mainstream of Harvard intellectual life and its poor relations with the rest of the University community.

Despite the visiting committee's recommendation in the report, submitted last spring to the chairman of the visiting committee in the social sciences, Dean Rosovsky said this week he is committed to maintaining Afro-American Studies as a department.

Rather than taking the action proposed by the visiting committee, Dean Rosovsky and President Bok decided to adopt a different strategy to deal with the problems of the department.

"Partly in response to the report and partly in response to what happened regarding the department last year," the University set up a five-member executive committee to "act as the department's senior faculty," Orlando Patterson, professor of Sociology and member of the committee, said yesterday.

In addition to defining the department's intellectual mission, the executive committee is charged with aggressively recruiting scholars for Afro-Am.

But the viability of the executive committee as well as the administration's commitment to Afro-Am has been continually called into question by members of the department as well as by the visiting committee's report. In fact, some administrators speculated the report's release may tarnish the department's reputation still further.

Ney said both departmental structure and the administration's treatment of Afro-Am contributed to its problems. "The visiting commitee didn't think that Harvard has given Afro-American Studies the time or consideration it deserves," he said.

The lack of senior faculty in Afro-Am (the department now has one and one-half tenured professors) drew harsh criticism last spring, as students held a series of demonstrations charging Harvard--and Rosovsky in particular--with failing to search aggressively for tenured faculty, depriving the department of funding and planning to demote it to an interdisciplinary committee.

Rosovsky argues, however, that "the record speaks for itself. We've invested heavily in the department. We've tried to make tenured departmental appointments." The University has spent a total of $3 million on the department over the last decade.

Patterson, who says that the executive committee has identified "several very good and exciting possibilities" for tenure, calls the report "obsolete," although he adds that "everyone contacted knows the situation here very well."

Daniel Robinson '79, who concentrated in Afro-American Studies, is more skeptical about the future of Afro-Am. He says, "the commitment to Afro has not been shown in the past. I have faith sin what I see. When I see tenured faculty I'll have faith in them."

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