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Too Controversial For Comfort


By Jonathan D. Rabinovitz

The Afro-American Studies Executive Committee revealed a major policy shift this past week, when it announced it would not consider Eugene D. Genovese, professor of history at Rochester University, for its next proposed appointment, and instead would search for a scholar in Afro-Am literature.

Orlando Patterson, professor of Sociology and a committee member, said Monday he does not plan to work with the committee next year because he believes the committee discriminated against Genovese on the basis of his "controversial" personal reputation and his Marxist perspective.

The committee, formed in September by Dean Rosovsky to recruit senior faculty for Afro-Am, or originally was looking solely for historians, and in April recommended positions for three, including Nathan I. Huggins, a professor of history at Columbia University. Only Huggins accepted, and he will become chairman of the department on July 1.

Huggins said Thursday he requested the committee change its policy and try to find scholars in literature and social sciences other than history. Two historians in Afro-Am would be "redundant", Huggins said.

The committee originally decided against looking for scholars in economics, sociology, and government, because there are none available who meet Harvard standards, Richard B. Freeman, professor of Economics and a committee member, said a few weeks ago.

History is the "most important area in Afro-Am," Aaron A. Estis '80, a concentrator, said, adding "It's strange that at one time they wanted three historians, and now they're satisfied with one."

"The department needs two historians," Patterson said, adding Huggins is an "excellent" start, but he is a "generalist." Genovese, a specialist in slave history and knowledgeable in the Black experience in Latin America, would add "needed depth," he said.

Freeman said Genovese's candidacy never reached the final stages because his personal reputation is controversial, and the committee wanted to build a stable base for the department. But the committee never investigated his reputation, Freeman said, and its members felt his scholarship is excellent--the committee may consider him again in the fall, he added.

William B. Hauser, chairman of the history department at Rochester University said, "Genovese is a tough man to deal with because he's strongly opinionated, but there are no problems within our department."

"The whole incident is especially ironic in view of President Bok's recent letter to the Harvard community, stating that non-academic criterion should play no part in the appointment process," Patterson said.

"He is one of the two top scholars studying the history of the south," Robert Fogel, a professor of history and economics, said Monday. Genovese won the Bancroft prize in '75 for his book on slavery in America, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Madse, which was used in Harvard's sophomore history tutorial this year.

"I'm very depressed about the whole thing," Patterson said, adding "I just hope the committee will reconsider."

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