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We are "trying very hard to leave the past behind" said Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III over the summer. As the new coordinator of race relations on campus, Epps had the right idea. And so did Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 for naming Epps to the position shortly after Commencement.
After a spring of tension, hostility and little healing, Harvard needs more than a summer vacation to smooth relations and heal the inflammations that marked spring term. We need a leader with stature and charisma to be able to reach out to all areas of the community and coordinate the kind of progressive and far reaching activities that the University needs.
We could use regular "town meetings" to diffuse tension, guidelines (but not rules) to avoid offensive postering and mandatory campus meetings on the scale of the first-year plagiarism conference to discuss appropriate behavior on a campus as diverse as ours. These should be the core of our program instead of the standard "feel good" events like picnics and cultural shows.
For the time being, Epps will run a combination of the Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs headed by its dean Hilda Hernandez-Gravelle and the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations headed by its director S. Allen Counter.
Also working to coordinate the two offices' efforts will be a new faculty-student committee on race relations, to be chaired by Professor of Afro-American Studies K. Anthony Appiah. This committee will replace the already standing faculty committees for the Foundation and the Office of Race Relations and Minority Affairs and it has the opportunity to play a more constructive role than did the previous committees.
We hope the body's yet-to-be-named faculty members prove committed and willing to work hard on a pivotal college issue. And we hope that the student members will be representative of undergraduate opinions as diverse as those held by the student body. Appiah has suggested that the committee may meet once a month. We doubt that will be enough.
As we have said in the past, the two former race relation offices often overlapped and didn't work well together. Neither office head was equipped to serve the entire Harvard community--which should be a priority in an office dealing with diversity. One central office can be more organized and efficient, and it can be more accessible to students who will not be confused by its specific purpose. An office like this needs a strong, full-time leader with a clear mandate from the University to try to eliminate racial tension and to also deal with problems that occur.
But Epps, an important central university administrator has other important duties. Is he the right person to fill this post indefinitely? Or does Harvard need to make a full-time commitment to the combined offices and search for a leader whose first responsibility is to foster diversity and understanding on campus?
We're glad that the University has recognized the need to restructure its race offices, but the Epps appointment should not be the end of the changes. The University should continue to look for a long-term solution. Until then, we have confidence that Epps has the qualifications to make the combined offices work. We just hope he has the time.
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