President Bok this week criticized the organizers of a controversial boycott of a Law School course, saying the attempt by the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) to replace a white professor with a minority "was not the best choice of tactics."
In his first public comment on the dispute--which drew national publicity this summer--Bok said in a broad-ranging interview Wednesday that he "would have become somewhat involved" had the Law School acceded to the BLSA's request.
Some law students have backed the boycott of the winter-term class because they say the course--taught by two visiting professors, one of whom is white--could have been used as an opportunity to bring another full-time minority faculty member to the Law School.
"I think if one is really concerned about the appointment of more people of some particular group, the best way to proceed is to come up with very good candidates," Bok said, adding: "We don't yield on the principle that people don't teach courses because of the color of their skin or because of their particular ideological perspective."
'We're not very impressed particularly on matters of principle, by demonstrations that rely on rhetoric or noise or ridicule.'
The BLSA had initially launched the boycott because it objected to the selection of white co-instructor Jack Greenberg, chief counsel of the legal defense of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Though some boycott organizers had criticized Greenberg's refusal to abandon his NAACP post in favor of a Black attorney, the BLSA has subsequently stressed the need for more minority Law faculty in explaining the boycott.
But Bok said "it was so predictable" that Greenberg's selection would "dominate the news" and overshadow the protestors' broader goals.
During the 45-minute interview, Bok also voiced concern over excessive careerism and segregation among undergraduates, saying he hopes that a new College public service program may help tackle the first problem.
He said he would continue urging House masters to act through "persuasion and encouragement of incentives," to break down any "uncomfortably large proportions of given groups--athletes, preppies or whatever--in one House or another."
At this point, however, he said he does not favor any major change in the freshman housing lottery system that would spread groups more evenly across the Houses, because, he said, "the basic idea of free choice" built into the current preferential lottery system is worthwhile.
"You ought to have a very good reason for putting in another system...which could substantially diminish the free choice of students. I don't see that compelling a case made."
Bok said he believes the House masters "are the first line of defense" against hostile behavior against minority groups.
He explained that he backs a decentralized system because "I don't think a uniform, draconian solution can be imposed on all Houses. That does usually provoke resentment and evasion of various kinds."