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When Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III made his evaluation of race relations and how Harvard deals with them last week, he gave the University a B+ and talked about new programs for the future.
Grading the University, especially on a topic as controversial as race relations, is a risky endeavor. Epps had the resources to take a tough and thorough look at the university's performance. After taking over as head of Harvard's race relations offices over the summer, he had both an inside and outside perspective to help him make his decisions.
But giving Harvard a B+ is a cop-out.
What kind of grade is that? At Harvard a B+ can mean too many things for it to mean anything at all.
A B+ is one of those grades that teaching fellows who don't believe in grading (you mostly find this type in the humanities--particularly literature, and other fields that have trouble making categorical statements about the quality of someone else's subjective viewpoint) dole out to half of their students. The other half, who have usually fared better and shown up for more classes, get A-'s.
No one is willing to complain about a B+ grade. It's not bad, it's better than a B and it means that you have done a lot better than many other people.
But it's still not an A.
At Harvard, where more than a substantial percentage of the population is neurotic about grades, a B+ will never satisfy anyone. As a grade, it's meaning is too nebulous to be useful for the kind of tough evaluation Epps was trying to conduct.
It's not that I question Epps' sincerity in giving the University a B+; I'm sure he made a careful study and reasoned decision. But for those of us who are still getting grades and are more sensitive to their significance, it just doesn't mean anything.
So what kind of grade does the University deserve? The problem would be much better answered by one of those T.F.'s who don't believe in grading.
We could assign a grade, or think about evaluating the University's global performance or even somehow measure how well we all get along on campus. That would take a complicated study that looked at many different elements of race relations at Harvard and in the country.
The administration doesn't seem ready for that. They are still too willing to compartmentalize the problems and put off making sweeping changes. Part of the problem we have in dealing with race relations at Harvard is a lack of long-term thinking.
Race relations have an impact on every aspect of University life from the housing lottery to first-year orientation to the Core to faculty hiring and student recruitment. Our current race relations policy does not reflect this and neither do Epps' suggestions for new programs based on his evaluation. In fact, the new programs just show stuck the University is to its old ways.
For instance, how can Epps create new programs and forward thinking when the university has not yet resolved the lingering questions about the structure of our race relation offices?
It is still not clear how long Epps will retain his position as head of The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and the Office for Race Relations and Minority Affairs. His appointment was a stop-gap measure by the University in response to the conflicts on campus last spring. If the University wants to make any kind of commitment to furthering diversity and relations on campus, then it should make a long-term change in the structure of our race relations offices, and appoint a coordinator whose primary responsibility is to foster good relations on campus.
Also, how can Epps base his new race relations initiatives in the houses, if he does not ever address the diversity of the student body or the diversity of house life?
Changing the house system or the way housing is distributed is a complicated matter. But the race offices--responsible for fostering a diverse community--should be making an evaluation of house populations and thinking about the best housing system for creating a community that can live, eat and work together in the same house.
This is not just the domain of the Committee on House Life and Associate Dean of the College for the House System Thomas A. Dingman '67--not if Harvard wants to seriously address how students relate to one another. All the talking and retreating in the world won't make any difference if Harvard students cannot live together and make efforts not to have any contact with each other within the mini-communities of our houses.
And finally, how can Epps foster diversity when the faculty, the student body and the curriculum do not adequately reflect the diversity in the country? The passing around of this problem from one administrator to the next does little to foster good relations among students and the University.
Epps plans to talk about race relations during orientation week, and that is a good goal. But how can that be successful if the student body discussing race is not a diverse one?
What the current University policy towards race relations lacks is a long-term vision that creatively addresses the problems we face in school and beyond. As long as we keep only building on past programs and structure, and keep passing the buck to other administrators, Harvard will never be able to make real progress in race relations.
We'll never get into Group I like that.
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