CALL it "academic anomy." Call it "concentrator envy." It doesn't take a social theorist to recognize that some members of the Sociology Department suffer from an acute case of interdepartmental jealousy. Whatever you call it, the recent attacks on the academic legitimacy of Social Studies by Acting Chair of the Sociology Department Orlando Patterson and Professor of Sociology James A. Davis were tasteless and sophomoric.
These academic complaints were not, however, deserving of censure, as Social Studies Chair David S. Landes has proposed. Although Patterson's diatribe was written with all of the charm and insight of a whiny kindergartener, it was well within the boundaries of legitimate academic debate.
Social Studies and Sociology represent basically different methodological approaches to different areas of social science--and each certainly has the right to question the legitimacy of the other. Social Studies is a problem-oriented cross-disciplinary approach to social questions, whereas sociology is a more quantitative discipline. If Social Studies did not exist, most concentrators would have chosen History and Literature or Government, and not Sociology, according to Head Tutor Judith Vichniac.
WHAT does deserve censure are the attacks by the head tutor and the chair of the Sociology Department on Social Studies concentrators and sociology graduate students. Patterson denounced these students as "disloyal" and lacking "a healthy predisposition to squash the competition." In a none-too-subtle warning to graduate students, Davis called teaching in Social Studies "a dead end professionally." These heavy-handed tactics, more than the bickering over methodology, deserve the scrutiny of Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence.
If anyone deserves an official reprimand, it is Sociology head tutor and Winthrop House Master Davis, who hurled a series of gratuitous insults at Social Studies concentrators in a recent letter to The Crimson. Although Davis later sent a half-hearted letter of apology to the large contingent of Social Studies concentrators in Winthrop House, the personal insults were unprofessional, inexcusable and entirely inappropriate for someone overseeing a house community.
Of course, house masters enjoy the same right to free speech as everyone else at Harvard. But Davis can be held accountable professionally for violating the standards of civility that an academic community demands. Then again, Davis and Patterson may have punished themselves enough by publicly exposing their insecurities.
In the end, Sociology can only be hurt by the antics of its head tutor and department chair. How many first-year students will be attracted to a department where senior professors are reduced to petty name-calling? How many graduate students will want to join a department that brands them "disloyal"? If Davis and Patterson know what is best for their department, they will apologize for this irrational incident and get back to work.