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Genovese Rejection Defies Belief

THE MAIL

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

To The Editors of The Crimson:

It was with disbelief that I read the report in Tuesday's Crimson on the rejection of Professor Eugene Genovese's candidacy for a professorship in Harvard's Afro-American Studies Department. This incredible decision can have no basis other than ideological and personal, for it happens that Professor Genovese stands among the very highest ranks of American historians who study Afro-American life and history.

It is precisely this caliber of American scholars, Black and white, that Dean Henry Rosovsky and other members (including me) of the founding Committee on Afro-American Studies in 1969 and the subsequent McCree Review Committee in 1972 have endeavored to bring to Harvard's Department of Afro-American Studies. Professor Genovese is simply one of the several most innovative and profound scholars in the field of Afro-American Studies, having captured the most coveted prize in American history--the Bancroft Prize (1975) of the American Historical Association--for his monumental work, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1974). And equally creative is his most recent work, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World (1979). I might add that Professor Genovese is a brilliant teacher, dedicated to undergraduate education and to serving students' needs. Both as scholar and teacher, he is precisely what Harvard in general and Afro-American Studies in particular need.

That a scholar of this type could today be rejected by a committee seeking senior appointments in Afro-American Studies defies belief. That such rejection could today revolve around Professor Genovese's use of some Marxist analytical methods (though quite subdued if not invisible in his Bancroft Prize book, Roll, Jordan, Roll) and his interest in Socialist politics also defies belief. That this petty and obscene resort to McCarthyite use of ideological criteria for faculty appointments at Harvard, hardly a week after President Derek C. Bok issued his courageous and cogent memorandum denouncing such McCarthyite behavior in our universities, was offered to the Harvard community without explanation also defies belief. The action by the Executive Committee on Afro-American Studies was, alas, downright arrogant.

I think it incumbent upon the Executive Committee on Afro-American Studies to reconsider its errant decision. I think it incumbent upon President Bok to insist that this decision be reconsidered. I also think the new chairman of the Afro-Am Department, my old friend Professor Nathan Huggins, should request the Executive Committee to reconsider its pernicious action. Would, incidentally, the Executive Committee members who opposed Professor Genovese prefer a conservative or right-wing historian with comparable scholarly credentials? Perhaps. But, speaking as a Black, let me say that given a choice between Professor Genovese and a conservative historian of same caliber, I would have no difficulty in deciding. Where were the conservative and right-wing scholars during the years of white supremacist oppression of Afro-Americans?

Professor Huggins, who recently gave the highest praise and evaluation to Professor Genovese's new book From Rebellion to Revolution (see The New Republic, Jan. 19, 1980), must know that the future intellectual reputation of the reorganized Afro-American Studies Department will be fundamentally harmed if the decision on Professor Genovese is allowed to stand. It is important that Professor Higgins' position on this matter be made clear to scholars in the Afro-American field, that he disassociate himself from this incredible decision, and I urge him to come forth. Professor Genovese's presence in Afro-American Studies at Harvard would. I am sure, aid the task of giving this Department the respect and recognition it deserves but has been denied for over a decade. Martin Kilson   Professor of Government

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