THE recent resurgence of student activism in support of minority and women faculty recruitment, including last week's boycott of classes, is an encouraging indicator of College-wide interest in "minority issues." The Minority Student Alliance (MSA) has been energetic and imaginative in its efforts to raise awareness of Harvard's shameful dearth of minority faculty members.
But the minority faculty issue, though undeniably important, is not the ideal rallying point for campus activists. Student pressure can be only minimally effective at improving the diversity of the Faculty. The multitude of obstacles to remedying Harvard's Faculty woes, notably the dearth of qualified minority Ph.D candidates nationwide, make a quick solution nearly impossible. It is a long-term problem requiring a correspondingly long-term remedy.
IN THE meantime, minority activists should not allow the minority hiring crusade to divert them from other pressing issues--issues which do lend themselves to student pressure on the administration and which are susceptible to quick solutions. Specifically, student activists should demand that Harvard immediately eliminate its explicit policy of giving preference in admissions to children of alumni, or "legacies." Legacy status improves an applicant's chances of getting into Harvard by almost three times.
We have argued in the past that the legacy preference is an ugly vestige of a Harvard long past--an aristocratic policy that violates any notions of fairness and equality of opportunity. Even if Harvard only invokes the legacy preference to decide between two candidates of otherwise identical qualifications, the policy still favors those born at the top of the social heap. Granting this advantage to the fortuitously born tilts the playing field against minorities and the economically disadvantaged, because most current legacies are descended from people who attended a Harvard that was a bastion of rich, white Northeasterners.
In fact, Harvard officials have attempted to excuse the College's suspiciously low admission rate for Asian-Americans by pointing out that few of them are legacies. In other words, Harvard openly acknowledges that legacy admissions effectively discriminate against minorities.
If ever there were an issue for student activists of all stripes to unite behind, this is it. Yet the campus has been silent on the issue. As far as we know, our own editorial has been the only public protest against the legacy policy this year.
Unlike hiring more minority faculty, a process fraught with complications that will take years to accomplish, eliminating the legacy preference could be accomplished with the stroke of a pen, should the administration ever be pressured into doing it.
So what are we waiting for?