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“Diversity” is the word of the spring here in Cambridge.
Larry Summers has taken the fall for rapping Cornel West’s flight to Princeton and protests are everywhere—on the steps of Widener, in the Yard, and even in front of Abercrombie & Fitch.
In the midst of all this, why should a quiet, tree-sprinkled enclave up Garden Street, most famous beyond Harvard for its collection of historical women’s papers, matter to students concerned about diversity Harvard? How is Radcliffe relevant anymore to students intent on a living wage, a Latino Studies department or a minority dean for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS)?
The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study matters—and matters deeply—because it is the gauge for judging how well our Fair Harvard continues to address concerns about the limits of the University’s academic canon.
In the 19th century, Radcliffe used the same type of energy and advocacy encompassed in today’s diversity rallies to give women access to a Harvard education. Radcliffe was a central force in getting classes to go co-ed at Harvard in 1943, opening up the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to women in 1963 and organizing the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies in 1992 that brings together faculty and graduate students from six Boston-area universities.
The school grew in spurts and sputters, fighting for women’s equality, their deservedness of the highest quality of instruction and worthiness of inclusion—physically and intellectually—in Harvard’s halls and classrooms.
So if the Harvard of today is interested in making sure a diversity of perspectives and opinions are recognized on campus, we should watch intently how well Radcliffe fares, because it offers us a model for understanding how Harvard historically and currently integrates the “outsider.”
Radcliffe merged with Harvard in 1998 and can now bring its agenda to Harvard from the “inside”: the Institute’s dean sits on the president’s roundtable, along with the dean of FAS and all the other schools at Harvard. Radcliffe controls its own budget and maintains its buildings around the Radcliffe Quad.
But even after becoming part of Harvard, Radcliffe has had its share of setbacks in effectively charting the University system, offering valuable lessons about what may lie ahead to groups currently lobbying Mass Hall.
After the merger, the Institute had to rethink how it would keep alumnae and students behind its cause of promoting women at Harvard while addressing a drop in the rate of giving its Annual Fund from some disgruntled alumnae, deal with last spring’s budget shortfall, explain itself repeatedly to Harvard faculty—all while streamlining its programs so that it could carve out an intellectual niche within the University.
Just a few weeks ago, 73 percent of the undergraduates polled in a survey by The Crimson said they do not understand the purpose of the Institute for Advance Study, indicating that the same students who are so concerned with “diversity” have simply ignored the part of Harvard that has historically been one of the loudest advocates for pluralism on campus.
The Institute itself is largely to blame for students’ not recognizing Radcliffe as the means for judging Harvard on issues of diversity. Led by Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Drew Gilpin Faust, Radcliffe has misguidedly shunned the role of “diversity gauge” by attempting to hide the problems the Institute has encountered in becoming a world-renowned research center.
Last spring, Radcliffe was less than up front about the budget shortfalls and several high profile administrative departures, and it was nearly impossible to get concrete information this year about why Radcliffe was contemplating opening up its older alumnae lists to Harvard fund-raisers. Just this past week, an undergraduate Crimson reporter was denied access to a Radcliffe-sponsored luncheon aimed at getting the word out about the Institute’s work that dozens of female Harvard faculty attended—a type of event to which campus reporters are usually readily admitted.
The Radcliffe public relations office seems to think that it is to their benefit to keep any remotely unflattering information about the Institute from the Harvard community. Yet when Radcliffe stumbles, it does not reflect poorly on the Institute’s core mission, but on Harvard, whose duty it is to wholly incorporate the institution’s advocacy for women and women’s scholarship for the betterment of our University.
Full knowledge of Radcliffe’s setbacks, as well as its successes, is critical to understanding how well Harvard is doing in terms of including divergent interests. It is Harvard’s responsibility to permit the new Radcliffe to flourish, and we need to see Harvard’s performance to judge it.
By and large, though, since the departure of the equally wise and wily interim- dean Mary Maples Dunn a year and a half ago, Radcliffe has displayed a remarkable lack of understanding of how important it is for all concerned about both Harvard and Radcliffe to see clearly—without spin or hype—where the Institute is succeeding and where it is having trouble.
This much-needed transparency will force Harvard to work in a timely way to appropriately aid Radcliffe in hurdling potential roadblocks to its emergence as an institute for advanced study and its full integration into the University system, as well as provide information about how other minority interests—whether they be ones of race, ethnicity or socio-economics—might fare at Fair Harvard.
But instead, apparently terrified at being labeled a failure, Radcliffe has been overly secretive with the University community about its development and as a result is shortchanging itself from being the beacon of diversity at Harvard that it should be.
Joyce K. McIntyre ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Kirkland House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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