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Triumph or Tokenism?



WELD Professor of Law Derrick A. Bell has never been known for his timidity. His recent announcement that he is taking leave from Harvard until the Law School tenures a Black woman grabbed headlines across the country and breathed new life into the school's movement for greater faculty diversity.

Ironically, the Law School's recent record of recognizing the scholarship of minorities and women has been excellent, with six of the last 12 appointments going to women and minority professors. Still, less than 8 percent of the tenured faculty is women, and less than 10 percent is minorities. Additional pressure on the administration to boost these numbers--particularly for women scholars--can work only to quicken the pace of needed change. The addition of a qualified minority woman to the law faculty would provide an important scholarly perspective as well as provide a role model for minority and female students.

But pressure on Harvard's administration, if applied indiscriminately, can have damaging side effects as well. Bell's ultimatum raises the specter of tokenism in its purest form. Is the hiring of one Black woman proof of a true commitment to faculty diversity? And if Harvard does hire a Black woman to assuage Bell, will she only be known as The Black Woman on The Faculty? Will her role as a scholar be undermined by suspicion about why she was hired?

We have long supported the cause of minority and women faculty hiring. A more diverse faculty provides role models for minorities and women on campus and broadens the scope of all students' academic experience. In the quest for greater minority and female representation, however, we should not forget these ultimate ends--improved opportunities and education. When the means used to demand diversity begin to compromise these ends, the means need to be questioned.

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