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The Empty Shout

Protesters for a More Diverse Faculty Slight a Good End by Raucous Means

By Adam I. Arenson

As I looked out my window across the Yard at the placard-toting group of students who had convened around the John Harvard statue Monday afternoon, I considered walking over to learn more about the particular which cause excited them: the whole diversity thing. I wanted to know what approaches or suggestions the coalition had, what ingenious or compelling ideas this consortium of students had conceived to help increase the number of minority faculty members. Not only did the protesters cry of "We want diversity and we want it now" ruin my concentration, it undermined my interest in the diversity coalition's cause.

There are many reasons that I should have been friendly to this rally. Protest is a healthy sign for a college campus. And I agree with the goals of the coalition: achieving a Faculty that is diverse in more ways than age, home state and necktie pattern. Moreover, the protesters chose a prime date to demonstrate. Standing at the foot of the University's namesake during pre-frosh weekend is a smart strategic move. I later found out that the demonstrators were handing out information and collecting signatures. So it is unfortunate that they had turned me off before I got anywhere close.

Ranting in front of the stony stare of John Harvard is not the best way to bring about change. Though we need as diverse a faculty as possible, this protest hardly brought us any closer to that goal. Shouting never makes people listen. While confrontation makes for good print, it does not have as much impact as a well-reasoned statement that persuades rather than deafens. Such an important issue as faculty diversity should not be championed by such empty shouting.

Shouted slogans elicit reactions of disgust--not exactly the best image for a group trying to foster social change. So as I walked in the other direction from the demonstration, I wondered why those protesting were opting to spend part of their busy Harvard lives standing around screaming. If Harvard were somehow blatantly ignoring the facts of the diversity situation by aggressively and repeatedly under-hiring minorities, then maybe then their sore throats would be justified. Instead, the diversity coalition threw away its potentially great influence.

Harvard has a commitment to diversity. In recent years, it has hired and given tenure in line with availability rates of women and minority junior faculty. And the University isn't far off the mark in tenuring such individuals either.

The underlying "problem" of the lack of minority professors is more complex than the protesters mantra of inaction suggests. Turnover in academia depends on openings due to retirement, job transfers and death. Change must necessarily be slow. When making an appointment, a university must look to the quality of instructors in the specific field. While there might be, for example, a preponderance of minority candidates in the sciences, those people do not help fill a vacancy in fine arts.

Shouting is not going to convince anybody. Students in the coalition ought to be working--not shouting--by committing themselves in an active sense to making a diverse faculty the only possible reality. The tools for them to do so are readily available. They should promote and participate in programs like the Radcliffe Science Alliance, which exposes minorities to the career opportunities in higher education. And they should call--quietly--on the Office of Career Services to highlight to the female and minority communities on campus the rewarding opportunities in academia as much as it does for positions with high-paying consulting firms.

But more importantly, as college students, we have an opportunity to help. Only with increased outreach from institutions of higher education to minority and female schoolchildren can we hope to prepare members of those populations to even be part of the hiring pool. There are a number of excellent public-service opportunities to tutor students in Boston and Cambridge. We can use our ability to teach, to understand and to inspire these kids--the real future professors. Now we have the chance to turn students toward academics. This commitment to education may not be a quick solution, but it would be an effective one.

Adam I. Arenson, a Crimson editor, is a first year living in Hollis Hall.

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