Two items in Saturday's Crimson (November 14) caught my attention. One, the report that a Black students' fraternity--Phi Beta Sigma--at UMass (Amherst) hosted a speech by Professor Leonard Jeffries of City University of New York.
The second, the intellectually bizarre comments on Harvard's Women's Studies Program by my Department of Government colleague Professor Harvey C. Mansfield Jr.
Like the group of Black students at Harvard College who invited Professor Leonard Jeffries to Harvard a year ago, spokespersons for the UMass Black fraternity claimed that the purpose of their invitation to Jeffries was to enlighten UMass students (Black and white) about African societies' contributions to literate civilizations.
But why Leonard Jeffries? He has no significant standing in the fields of either African Studies or Ancient Studies.
Other African-American scholars with significant standing in these fields are available and would have been far more suitable--such as Professor Frank Snowden, the head of the Classics Department at Howard University, and also Professor Joseph Harris, also at Howard University.
Of course, what these latter Black scholars lack is what Jeffries possesses in abundance--an ideological ax to grind, and with a twist that is usually anti-Semitic.
The officers of the UMass Black fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, cannot possibly be unaware of Jeffries' anti-Semitic proclivities. Black students everywhere have a moral obligation to reject anti-Semitic behavior--an obligation passed down to them by thousands-on-thousands of Black folks whose lives were maimed or snuffed out by America's racist patterns, and an obligation also passed on to them by that noble warrior against America's racist patterns, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
My colleague Professor Harvey Mansfield is also fond of grinding an ideological ax vis-a-vis Women's Studies and Afro-American Studies.
How else are we to interpret his intellectually bogus claim that Harvard's Women's Studies Program "is not women's studies; it's feminist studies, a biased and one-sided point of view."
Quite the contrary. Women's Studies and Feminist Studies are two terms for the same field of studies--inquiry into the gender dynamics of historical and contemporary patterns in human affairs. The term "feminist" no more intrinsically distorts the scholarly character of inquiry into gender dynamics than the term "capitalist" intrinsically distorts the study of market dynamics in economic processes.
Mansfield must know this. So I can only interpret his intemperate comments on Harvard's Women's Studies Program as ideological axgrinding.
And the same holds for his suggestion that affirmative action programs for overcoming generations of undemocratic exclusion of Blacks and women from mainstream universities are destructive of serious scholarly standards and thus illegitimate.
In Mansfield's tendentious phrasing--"Feminist scholars...should prove themselves as other scholars do without the advantage of an affirmative action program that makes their biased non-scholarship immediately legitimate."
Mansfield's statement amounts to a smear of a first-rate community of both women and Black scholars at Harvard--scholars like Helen Vendler, Susan Pharr, Barbara Johnson, Sara Lightfoot, Susan Suleiman, Elaine Scarry, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Preston Williams, Anthony Appiah, Christopher Edley, Charles Willie, Orlando Patterson, to name just a few. Mansfield ought to apologize. Martin L. Kilson Professor of Government
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