Derrick Bell, a professor at Harvard Law School – REPORT URGES MORE BLACKS ON FACULTY AT HARVARD

Posted on March 8, 2012


HighBeam Research
The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
October 25, 1988 | Joanne Ball, Globe Staff
A new report by black faculty and staff at Harvard University, where blacks constitute 1.8 percent of the tenured faculty, challenges the school to increase its black and minority faculty and administrators to 10 percent by the fall of 1990.

“We want immediate and radical action,” said Lawrence Watson, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Design. “We felt that if we keep going at the turtle’s pace we’re moving at now, we will not be around to see any real progress.”

The report, written by Derrick Bell, a professor at Harvard Law School, articulates a need for urgent redress to what Bell referred to in an interview yesterday as “a ridiculous situation.”

“The process that has been in effect regarding affirmative action wasn’t going anywhere,” said Bell. “We have had some interesting discussions, but we felt that the challenge was what to do about the situation.”

Bell and Watson were critical of Harvard’s recruitment, urging the university to give a higher priority to recruiting blacks, Hispanics and native Americans. They noted that Asians are well represented in the sciences at the school.

Ronald Quincy, associate vice president in charge of affirmative action at the university, speaking for Harvard president Derek Bok, said yesterday that the administration had “a very positive reaction to the substantive comments in the report,” adding that a five-year plan for affirmative action was completed last year and individual deans are finalizing their proposals for increasing minority representation.

But in the report and in interviews, members of the Association of Black Faculty and Administrators, of which Bell and Watson are co-chairmen, expressed frustration with what they consider to be a problem-ridden process. For example, Watson said, there are no university-wide hiring criteria for minorities, with each department instead establishing its own standards.

In its conclusion, the report states: “Most of us thought that the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education would close the book on racial discrimination and open a new era of opportunity that knew no color line. We were wrong. The challenge of overcoming the attachment to the beliefs and benefits of white supremacy remains. Harvard cannot respond effectively to this challenge with a faculty whose blacks hardly constitute one percent of the total.”

Last spring, in a novel approach to affirmative action issues, the executive committee of the Association of Black Faculty and Administrators of Harvard conducted a series of meetings with the university’s 10 academic deans. The report was based on those meetings.

A 28-page appendix includes the correspondence between the black faculty association and the deans reflecting various recollections of those meetings.

“The meetings were a useful process, not an easy process,” said Muriel Morisey Spence, a part-time instructor in the School of Education. “These were tough issues, and we were all being candid. We were not talking on superficial issues or sharing platitudes.”

The faculties of arts and sciences and of the medical school make up more than 80 percent of the faculty at Harvard, Quincy said, and represent the best potential for improving minority numbers.

Quincy said that both schools are expected to submit their five-year plans before the end of the year. For example, he said, the medical school has targeted that 191 new hires come from minority groups within the next five years. Currently 935 out of 8,400 medical school faculty — including its teaching hospitals — are minorities.

An ongoing problem is one of terminology. The association believes minority hiring efforts should focus primarily on blacks, as people who have suffered historic discrimination, and include Hispanics and native Americans. The university wants to use the federal definition of minorities, which includes Asians.

The goal of the report, said Bell, one of two tenured black professors at Harvard Law School, “was to get the school cracking on hiring more minority people — especially disadvantaged minorities. That is an important distinction at Harvard, which defines everyone who is not from northern Europe as a minority.”

When blacks are the focus, their low numbers appear all the more stark, said Watson, who is the only black dean in the design school. “In so many areas, there is only one black. In the 1950s and 1960s, the only black in these departments of Harvard was impressed that he was chosen to be there.

“But in the 1980s, it’s nothing to be impressed about to say I’m the only one. It’s an embarrassment.”

Bell, who has used fiction to dramatize scholarly points in previous works, wrote the report, “The Final Report: How Affirmative Action at Harvard Was Transformed from 1988 Tragedy to 1990 Triumph,” using a fictional device. He wrote the report over the summer, he said.

It is the story of a fictional meeting with the university’s black administrators, its 198 black faculty members and the university president, all of whom are killed by a mysterious explosion. The meeting was about affirmative action.

According to the fictional account, after the explosion, a proposal was found among the late president’s papers, which set as its goal bolstering the number of black, Hispanic and native American faculty and administrators to 10 percent in honor of the centennial of the graduation of W.E.B. DuBois, scholar, journalist and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The goal of 10 percent black faculty and staff, Bell and Watson stated, was based on DuBois’ famous “Talented Tenth” theory that 10 percent of the black race should be the educated leaders. In this case, 10 percent was intended as a goal — a working figure that the university should strive to meet as quickly as possible, Watson said.

“We are in an educational community, and many of us have placed a lot of stock in the educational community being an agent for change,” he added. “And if that is not the case, then a lot of us have made a dreadful mistake.” JBALL ;10/24 NKELLY;10/25,13:04 FACULT25

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