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The Master's Disaster

By Emily M. Bernstein

I AM A Social Studies concentrator. I have no intention of going to law school. I have never worn a pinstripe, nor has anyone I've ever seen roaming the basement of Hilles Library where, we Social Studies students hang out.

Hence my surprise and anger over the letter from Professor of Sociology James A. Davis, who accused Social Studies concentrators of being academic dilletantes, biding their time between high school and law school in an inferior academic program.

I chose Social Studies for purely academic reasons, believing that I would be able to study subjects in more depth if I were not restricted to taking courses in one department. I thought it would be a valuable experience to learn about an area of study from several points of view, by taking history, government, philosophy and yes, even sociology courses.

But now I am told that my decision was foolish, and my concentration, academically worthless. By studying a variety of disciplines, I am merely training in "sophistry, if you will." By reading the works of 19th century philosophers, I am simply ensuring that my "scrutiny can proceed free of vulgar issues about facts and the dreary methods required to determine them."

By concentrating in Social Studies, I and the supportive group of friends with whom I have shared the experience have become a "pin-striped phalanx" joining in the "production of attorneys to defend the Constitutional rights of large corporations and major real estate speculators."

THE past week's attack by members of the Sociology Department on the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies--its faculty, its mode of inquiry and its students--has gone too far. The necessity of legitimate academic debate is not at question. The issue is the appropriateness of faculty members condemning an entire group of students for their failure to choose one course of study over another.

My purpose is not to defend the legitimacy of Social Studies; its instructors are capable of arguing for themselves. As a student who has been enormously enriched by the Social Studies program, I must voice my outrage at being told that the last three years of my education were devoted to a "powerhouse of pre-professional preparation."

The reason I feel so personally insulted by these remarks is that the man who wrote them, Sociology Head Tutor Davis, happens to be my house master.

THE Sociology Department's venomspitting at Social Studies began when an internal memorandum written in December by Orlando Patterson, acting chair of the Sociology Department, was leaked to The Crimson last week. The memo urged Sociology graduate students not to teach courses for Social Studies, and threatened to withhold preference for office space to those who did not have a "healthy predisposition to squash the competition."

Patterson's memo is disturbing enough by itself. But at least Patterson intended his attack for domestic consumption, and attacked only the Social Studies program, not the group of undergraduates who pursue it.

Davis, on the other hand, sent his charming suggestions to The Crimson, thereby assuring that every undergraduate and teacher affiliated with Social Studies would be able to read it.

His letter was clearly worded and clearly confrontational. It deliberately singled out the undergraduates concentrating in Social Studies and branded them unfit for the fine teaching of Sociology graduate sudents. Davis suggested that Social Studies could simply refill its teaching ranks "from, say, the Cafe Pamplona."

WHAT on earth was Davis thinking? What possible end did he hope to serve by gratuitously insulting a group of students in the most widely read forum on campus?

If Davis wanted to vent his anger at the Social Studies committee or express his heartfelt disdain for The Crimson and its decision to print the leaked Patterson memo, he should have done so.

And if Davis was attempting to attract more concentrators--well, what first-year student would choose a department in which senior faculty are reduced to petty ad hominem attacks on students who have the gall not to choose the professors' favored discipline?

Davis did nothing but offend the students with whom he lives and works. Social Studies concentrators are disproportionately represented in Winthrop House, and many of us are shocked and outraged that Master Davis stereotyped us in such a vicious and inaccurate fashion.

(Incidentally, had Davis employed any of the "dreary methods" --rigorous polling techniques and statistical analyses--of which he is so fond, he would have found that Social Studies are not disproportionately likely to pursue law careers.)

Although Davis has since apologized to Social Studies concentrators in Winthrop House, insisting that his gripe was strictly with the University and the Social Studies committee, it is difficult to shrug off the suggestion that we are all somehow academically deficient.

One hopes that the first-year students choosing their majors have learned their lesson well. Sociology seems to have lost its mind, as well as its temper, at an inopportune time and in a very unfortunate fashion.

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