Most of Nathan I. Huggin's first year as the chairman of Harvard's Afro-American Studies department was a tranquil transition to the task of building a solid academic program. But the department's tradition of controversy resumed this April when Josephine Wright, assistant professor of Afro-American studies, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging that Harvard discriminated against her on the basis of race and sex. She also said she might sue the university, pending the EEOC's decision on her case.
Wright's charges stemmed from the decision of the Afro-American Studies Executive Committee not to allow her a year-long extension of her teaching contract, which expires at the end of this year since she was not granted tenure. The Black assistant professor requested the extra year to complete her research on Afro-American musical folklore. After being denied the extension, Wright filed a formal grievance with the university, charging that the executive committee discriminated against her on the basis of race and sex.
Wright said the committee has routinely granted such extensions upon request, adding that her research, sponsored by a $77,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, would be "imperiled" if she did not receive the extension. Eileen Southern, professor of Afro-American Studies and Music, who served as the department's chairman before Huggins came to Harvard last fall, said last December it would be a simple matter to allow Wright to stay on another year. Southern, who worked with Wright on her research, added that the department routinely grants extensions, often "for less important reasons" than Wright's.
But Huggins and the executive committee disagreed with Wright and Southern, arguing that there were "no sufficient and compelling reasons" to warrant an extension.
Under the standard grievance procedure in such cases, Wright may choose one member of the three-member ad hoc committee that will hear her complaint. Dean Rosovsky and Huggins select the other two grievance committee members. When Wright tapped Southern, however, the executive committee rejected Southern as "inappropriate," and asked Wright to select someone else.
The committee's rejection of Southern, along with its refusal to grant her an extension, prompted Wright to file the complaint with the EEOC and to consider suing the university, Winston D. Kendall, Wright's attorney, said in April. He added that Wright would not alter her original choice of Southern to serve on the grievance committee.
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