The debate may be heating up again. In 1990, students loudly protested the lack of University support for Afro-American Studies. And after a quiet two years, other undergraduate groups are now raising demands for ethnic studies courses--this time focusing on Latino and Asian-American issues.
The president of La O, the campus Puerto Rican organization, and Raza, the Mexican-American student group, are calling for more courses on Latino history and culture in the United States. They have taken their concerns to Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and other University Hall administrators.
The Asian-American Association (AAA) recently formed a new political committee to coordinate efforts to bring Asian-American professors and courses to Harvard. Eunice Yoon '93, the committee's co-chair, says she would like to see an American studies program at Harvard and will push for more permanent Asian-American issues courses and professors.
Controversy surrounding ethnic studies is a national phenomenon. Conservatives and liberals across the country have clashed over canons, political correctness and the need to address an increasingly multicultural society.
It may be time, students are suggesting, to revive the debate to Harvard, where they see a paucity of ethnic studies courses and the lack of a clearly defined program.
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Lawrence A. Buell agrees that there is a dearth of courses on ethnicity at Harvard. Buell says the school's ethnic studies curriculum, if there is such a thing, is "embryotic right now--scarcely there except for a transient few courses."
Those "transient few courses" are listed on five pages in the course catalog, under "Courses Related to Ethnic Studies in the United States."
In addition, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences currently reserves funds to support a full-time faculty position in ethnic studies. The University can choose to give the money to one professor or to two more part-time scholars, says Professor of Sociology Aage B. Sorensen.
Sorensen chairs the faculty committee, formed in the late 1980s by the Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence, that oversees the ethnic studies slots, His committee consults and negotiates with departments to determine the appointments, he says.
This spring, Visiting Lecturer Betty Louise Bell will use the slot to teach a women's studies course on images of Native American women, Sorensen says.
Xiao-huang Yin, a historian of Asian American culture, and Rodolfo O. De La Garsa, a scholar of Latino politics, were offered visiting positions. Both announced at the last minute that they would not be able to join the Harvard faculty this year.
That's a problem with the system, Sorenson explains. Visiting professors are often well-established at other universities, and may yield to other commitments with little notice.
"It inevitably happens; you're dealing with people who have busy lives," Sorensen says.
Last year, Sorensen met with the Harvard Foundation's Academic Affairs Committee to discuss ways to structure an ethnic studies program. He says he hopes to produce a proposal this year.
"I think that there is a strong wish on the part of students to have some kind of recognition," Sorensen says.