A 'Comfortable Place' For Eight Scholars


Harvard, 1968: The College is embroiled in a crisis Students, sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King and a growing Black nationalist movement, are protesting for the creation of an Afro American Studies Department and greater recognition of undergraduate diversity. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has no tenured Black faculty members.

Twenty-five years later. Harvard, 1993: A burgeoning Afro-American Studies concentration attracts top faculty members from other universities. But the Faculty has only three more Black full professors than it did in 1969--and despite several past hirings, presently the same number of tenured Black women: zero.

Like any period of radical change, 1968 and 1969 did not mark an easy time for professors or administrators. But lasting transformations resulted, beginning with the Faculty's first Black tenured professor in 1969. And 1969's Rosovsky Report advised the creation of the desired Afro-American studies program.

Faculty officials today say they are working to correct the dearth of Black faculty. They attribute the problem to a number of factors, including a historically trickling pipeline. But some scholars say Harvard could do more.

Black faculty members are clustered in only a few fields: two in government, two in sociology, two joint appointments in English and Afro-American studies, one in Afro-American studies and one joint appointment in anthropology and Afro-American studies.

No Black faculty are members of natural or physical sciences departments. This tendency toward clustering is noted by affirmative action officials.

And today's few Black faculty members are forced to take on increasing responsibilities, as they are frequently drawn from their research to act as committee members and guides to students.

Professor of Afro-American Studies K. Anthony Appiah left Duke for Harvard in 1991. Since his arrival, he and Afro-American Studies Department Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. have taken great strides in rebuilding their department.

Harvard is a comfortable place for Black faculty, Appiah says. Other Black professors agree. Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies and Anthropology J. Lorand Matory says he has encountered no prejudice among either his colleagues or students.

"It's a very congenial academic environment," Matory says. "In general, I've felt that if anything, my being a young, Black man here has made my colleagues and students more attentive to me than if I'd been a less novel category."

But due in part to the same deficit that makes Matory's presence a "novelty," some scholars feel conscious of their differences from white colleagues.

"I do feel I have different views and different interests [from many colleagues], and my gender and race do explain this very nicely," says Katherine Tate, associate professor of government. "I sometimes feel it's unfair I have to represent all of these interests on my own."

As the only Black woman professor in the FAS, Tate is acutely aware of her unique status.

"I still feel very resentful about that fact," she says. "I wasn't recruited to pioneer for the race."

And other professors echo Tate's sentiment. Conscious of their small numbers, they are well-acquainted with the responsibilities that can fall on their shoulders in an institution striving for diverse representation on many issues.