A Textbook Case of Mismanagement


THINGS GET EMBARRASSINGLY QUIET at University Hall during the warm months. The Summer School bureaucracy, located in far less swank digs on Garden St. manages the temporary inhabitants of the Yard. College officials sit behind their desks and go through the motions, but June, July and August are notoriously slow for administrators in Cambridge as well as students at the beach.

One bit of news, however, threatened the quaint tranquillity this summer. Although this tale apparently will have a happy ending, it could easily have had disastrous effects.

Harvard's initial refusal to cooperate with a new Black Student's Guide to Colleges serves as a glaring example of the stodgy leadership style at Harvard which has frustrated students for years. In addition, race relations on campus have been severely strained in recent years. Minority students have repeatedly charged the administration with systematic insensitivity to their needs. The revelation that Harvard's deans had refused to supply information concerning undergraduate minority life could have fueled a major confrontation. But, perhaps for the good of students and officials alike, the belated decision to join the rest of the Ivy League in cooperating with the Brown University project has made this incident little more than a case study in University Hall mismanagement.

Harvard's three-month-long refusal to help the innovative Black guide, in the words of Dean of the College John B. Fox, Jr. '59, became "something of a public issue here in Cambridge." While writing a descriptive article about the Brown University group working on the book, a Crimson reporter stumbled onto the information that the Harvard assessment had become something of a problem because Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III had declined to answer a questionnaire sent to him or to distribute the five student questionnaires.

Michael J. Ward, an assistant editor of the guide who had just graduated from Brown in June, said the book was otherwise progressing satisfactorily toward its late-October release date. He explained the guide's objectives: to give Black students added insight into the college admissions process by supplying statistical information on minorities and narratives detailing each school's general climate--academic, social and racial.


Ward and others said they hoped the guide, which had evolved from an independent-study project, would fill a long-standing vacuum of necessary information as well as encouraging Blacks to apply to a greater range of schools. The format for the book seemed as simple and well-intentioned as the concept behind it: Each of the 114 schools included in the book would have a similar statistical breakdown revealing, for example, the number of tenured Black faculty members and percentage of Blacks receiving financial aid. A narrative summary of each school based on a dean's questionnaire and about five student questionnaires would follow each school's statistics.

When Harvard, alone among Ivy League schools, refused to cooperate, the staff decided to provide incomplete statistical information, a narrative based on a handful of student interviews, and a disclaimer explaining Harvard's refusal.

After the situation made headlines, Fox abruptly changed course. He returned a completed dean's questionnaire in mid-July, adding a cover letter explaining the delay and the administration's remaining worries with the book. Specifically, he criticized "segregationist and separatist assumptions behind the [dean and student] questionnaires" and concerns over the "survey technique" for student opinions which, because of the small number polled, would seem to produce "at best a series of idiosyncratic responses, at worst, a quite misleading, for good or ill, impression."

Fox explained: "Harvard College recognizes the racial differences in its student population and nevertheless has clear and specific integrationist goals:...We do not seek to respond to the needs of categories of students, but rather to the special combination of needs each individual student presents."

Barry Beckham, the tenured Black professor who editor the Brown guide, said in an interview earlier this month that the fears of subjectivity expressed by Fox were echoed by officials at other universities. "They were really afraid of the subjective aspects of the profiles," Beckham said. "They had no sense of how objective the editor would be." But Beckham added that most universities "felt they had to take a chance. In the final analysis, they realized that a book like this was long-overdue. They balanced off the risk with the need."

In a July 27 letter to Fox, Beckham took issue with the College's concerns, writing. "Without meaning to sound cynical, I must say that it is often exasperating to discover that whenever Black people decided to do something for themselves, those efforts are termed segregationist and separatist.. To be quite honest, Black students' primary considerations have to do with their chances for psychological as well as academic survival, and those chances are usually linked directly to the college's commitment to the special needs Black students bring to the campus."

THE PHILOSOPHICAL DEBATE over Harvard's unique treatment of minority needs is a far-ranging issue which has been discussed previously at great length and is not the central issue here. Rather, the question which remains after Harvard's reversal is how could it have refused to contribute to the guide in the first place?

Regardless of how one feels about Harvard's integrationist goals, one cannot help but feel extreme disappointment at the hesitant and contradictory handling of the Black guide issue. Harvard's dean of students and dean of the College gave the Brown University group two entirely different reasons for Harvard's conservative refusal. This made one thing clear: There was not one good reason to withhold in the first place.

Epps, in his April letter to Beckham and in subsequent interviews with the Crimson, focused solely on what he called the "too subjective" questions in explaining Harvard's position. Epps feared that Harvard's unique race relations policy might be put "in a very bad light" under the established format. Nevertheless, the dean left the door open for possible future contribution to the guide, pending a change in the information-gathering approach to one allowing for broader explanation.

Fox gave as his reason for backing out what he described as a long-standing Ivy policy not to contribute to commercially produced guides. Beckham said in an interview, "I'd never heard of the policy and no one had ever mentioned it to me." Not only did all of the other Ivy schools contribute to the guide weeks before Harvard relented, but it also remains unclear what policy Harvard was obeying. Dean of Admissions L. Fred Jewett '57 last week described the Ivy policy as one which forbids participation in guides which require schools to pay a fee to be included.

Although Fox never gave a single reason for switching, it is obvious that the rest of the Ivy League's participation and the public airing of his administration's bungling were his primary motivations. He said in his second letter to Beckham that Jewett has "recently...discussed participation in your guide with other Admissions offices in the League." All seven other schools had, apparently to Fox's astonishment, been able to decide independently on the basis of the book's merits. Fox further explained that he had not even looked at the questionnaires when making his final decision. And Epps was still unaware of the reversal several days after Fox sent the second letter.

This aloof decision-making style, coupled with an embarrassing lack of communication, ought to serve as a telling reminder for years to come. Fortunately, there will apparently be no scars of racial conflict to accompany the memories. Harvard, so prestigious and smug., made its equally elite Ivy allies look like bold innovators in this episode. If this sort of leadership affects other issues, Harvard's tradition of excellence will certainly suffer.