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Editorials

Fire David Kane

By Michael Gritzbach
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

This summer, when protests against systemic racism and police brutality erupted worldwide, Harvard vowed to be an ally in the fight for change. Frustrated by those “willfully blind” to racism’s hold in this country, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay and other administrators spoke of “a new sense of institutional responsibility” wherein “anti-racist action” would infuse Harvard’s teaching and research.

Now, barely a month into the academic calendar, the University can prove the sincerity of its rhetoric — or, in failing to do so, reveal its emptiness.

Government Preceptor David D. Kane is facing allegations that he authored a number of racist blog posts under the pseudonym “David Dudley Field ’25” on a site he created in 2003 called EphBlog. The site, which has been in “ maintenance mode” since allegations surfaced, has published blog posts authored by “Field” that contain racist content. One post states that fewer than one in 10 Black students at Williams College would have earned admission if it weren’t for their race. Another argues that there there should be a place at Williams for Identity Evropa: an American neo-Nazi and white supremacist group whose leader openly avocates for the “Nazification of America.” Identity Evropa is perhaps best known for its role in organizing the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. and for coining the white supremacist rallying cry “You will not replace us.” Another inappropriate post, entitled “Willy E. N-word Super Penis,” proposes this title as the new name for Williams College’s official mascot.

The allegations against Kane are disturbingly convincing. One post filed under the author tag “David Field Dudley” was signed off “David Kane ’88” (Kane is a 1988 graduate of Williams College). David Kane is also listed as a contributor to the blog, though no posts appear to be filed under his name. Damning still, in his response to the controversy, Kane has repeatedly failed to claim that he did not author the posts in question, or to condemn their content despite issuing multiple statements on the subject to students enrolled in his course.

The posts are unacceptable. Our issue with them goes beyond mere differences in political opinion — there are plenty of professors on campus whose political views we find horrific. But, if the allegations that the posts authored by “Field” were written by Kane are true, the suggestion that 90 percent of Black students at Williams don’t belong there and the defense of literal Nazism have irreparably damaged Kane’s ability to serve as an instructor.

Harvard cannot allow Kane to continue teaching Government 50, as he intends to resume lecturing October 13 after a temporary hiatus, according to an email he sent to the class. He simply cannot serve as an effective preceptor — certainly not to the Black students whose belonging at higher education institutions (and evidently in this country) he allegedly challenges, but also not to anyone with a basic intolerance for bigotry. In short, David Kane, assuming the allegations are true, must be fired.

Rather than forcing students to flee from a course into which they’ve already invested significant time — an option the Government Department has offered while chastising teaching fellows for proposing a boycott of lectures — Harvard should remove Kane.

The posts’ content have the potential to harm the sense of belonging felt by Black students at the College. They prey on impostor syndrome and other mental health struggles linked to the pervasiveness of systemic racism — which have been shown to negatively impact student academic performance. They follow the same twisted reasoning that aims to dismantle affirmative action, perpetuating vicious tropes that seek to present Black students as somehow less deserving than their peers.

We call on white students in the class to consider the undue burden this situation places on Black students and how remaining passively silent perpetuates racism and forges an insidious “white solidarity.” If Kane continues as the course instructor, white students should leave in protest.

If firing Kane is not immediately possible, he must be placed on full leave while the Government Department swiftly completes its current review. That includes his other Harvard duties — including acting as an adviser for the government data science track. How could students of color possibly navigate an advising appointment with an instructor they know questions their very place in college?

Until October 13, Gov 50 will be taught by the course’s teaching fellows, leaving the University with two practical options: first, to use that time to find a valid replacement head instructor; or second, to create conditions in which graduate students can successfully lead the rest of the course without chastisement for their pedagogical choices. In either case, graduate students, who have stepped up, deserve appropriate compensation for their additional labor.

Students shouldn’t be thrown into chaos just because University administrators failed to perform some very basic vetting in 2018. After all, if students can so easily find these blog posts, why didn’t Harvard?

Harvard administrators promised, for months, that they could — and would — do better. They said they understood the destructive nature of racism; that they were equally outraged and disheartened by the malicious character of significant chunks of American society.

The time is now to demonstrate that they meant it.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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