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Springtime at Harvard has become a traditional time for protests and marches to support diversity, and this year was no exception.
Beginning on March 5, the Saturday of Junior Parents Weekend ,the Asian American Association, Raza and other minority groups launched an all-out assault, complete with protests, petitions and postering. one of their primary goals: to increase minority faculty hiring.
The activists have adopted a confrontational, accusatory tone. Look around campus and you will see brightly-colored, sarcastic posters: "The FACTS about 'diversity' at Harvard: Harvard has fallen behind."
A protester's sign on March 5 displays Harvard's "report card," giving the administration an "A" for "evasion" and an "F" for "action" on the issue of minority faculty hiring The underlying message is that Harvard's faculty is not diverse due to institutionalized racism and stubborn, reactionary administrators.
Yet, the real reason for the scarcity of minority faculty members is not nearly so diabolical as the protesters imagine.
The fact is, there are few minority faculty members at Harvard simply because there are very few minority doctoral candidates available to hire.
One of the recent posters at Harvard decried the fact that Harvard has no "tenured U.S. Latino or Native American professors." According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, out of roughly 24,000 doctorates granted to U.S. citizens by American universities in 1988, only 2.4 percent went to Hispanics and 0.4 percent went to Native Americans.
Is it any surprise that Harvard has trouble finding qualified professors in this tiny pool of eligible candidates?
To acquire a Ph.D. one must complete both undergraduate and graduate school, and until recently this has not been a realistic possibility for many minorities. It was not until the 1960s that universities began to accept significant numbers of minorities, and until even later that affirmative action and other programs began to provide increased access to graduate education.
Despite this effort, the high cost of higher education remains a large obstacle to minorities who want to pursue careers in academia. As a whole groups such as Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans come from poorer backgrounds than their white counterparts.
Understandably, many prefer to enter professional school, which holds the promise of a more lucrative career, or to enter the job market straight out of undergraduate school. And those who do receive doctorates often find that they can make more money in a non-academic setting.
And the already small number of minority Ph.D.'s is steadily declining, according to the University's 1994 Affirmative Action Report. "The pools of Black and Hispanics seeking Ph.D.'s are shrinking," said Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles. "We're very concerned about the longer term future."
Instead of looking for minority professors when there are very few available, Harvard must focus its efforts on producing more minority Ph.D.'s Being an undergraduate is the first step, and Harvard has indeed been making this effort.
The Class of 1997 is composed of 35 percent nonwhite minority students, as opposed to the 16 percent in the Class of 1981. The admissions office, through mailings recruiters and alumni, tries to reach prospective minority students and during the upcoming Pre-Frosh Weekend, April 21 to 23, an entire day will be devoted to minority programs on campus.
Furthermore, this is not a problem specific to Harvard. The scarcity of minority Ph.D.'s is faced by universities throughout the nation. Harvard has the additional burden of being one of the finest universities in the world, and has only about 20 tenured positions available each year, according to President Neil L. Rudenstine.
And Harvard cannot compromise its academic standards by hiring professors who are not properly qualified, as some less prestigious universities are now considering.
Other universities have also adopted policies that set fixed, numerical goals for minority presence on their faculties. Since the number of eligible candidates is so small, such policies will inevitably lead to the degradation of academic standards. One hopes that Harvard would never dream of adopting such a policy.
The shortage of minority Ph.D.'s coupled with the tremendous demand. has led to cut-throat bidding wars. Universities often obtain minority professors after great efforts, only to have them snatched away by rivals offering a better deal.
This sort of ruthless competition between universities is nothing new; certainly Harvard is very adept at grabbing prestigious professors from other institutions.
But now, minority professors are valued not for their academic achievements but for their ethnicities. They become valuable only as representatives of their culture serving primarily as "role models," rather than as experts in various academic discipline. Labelling academics as "minorities" and seeking to hire them on that basis demeans their intellectual achievement, which, after all, should be the reason they are being hired in the first place.
Increasing diversity in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, like increasing the diversity of the student body, is a laudable goal. But minority professors are scarce, and those who have what it takes to be Harvard professors are even scarcer.
The only way to increase faculty diversity, without compromising academic excellence, is to enable and encourage qualified minority students to pursue academic careers. No amount of protesting will successfully increase faculty diversity until we recognize this basic need.
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