Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

On Campus, Concisely

January-February 2016

Race Debate, and Defacement

Harvard Law School (HLS) was rattled in November after black tape was pasted over portraits of its African-American professors in Wasserstein Hall, thrusting the University into the national spotlight amid growing concerns over racism on colleges campuses (see “Harvard Law and College Racial Concerns”). President Drew Faust, who frequently has used her platform to advocate racial justice, an issue of deep personal significance to her, called the incident an “act of hatred…inimical to our most fundamental values.” University police are investigating the defacement as a hate crime; at press time, no results had been announced.

Faust has expanded her advocacy in recent months and years, following protests of racism at Harvard and other elite universities. Hours after defaced portraits were discovered, she e-mailed the University to announce the release of a more than year-long study by the College Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion, which included recommendations such as better resources for low-income students and a long-term focus on improving faculty diversity.

At the Law School, student activists have called for structural changes such as the removal of the crest of the slave-owning Royall family from the school’s official seal, echoing similar concerns at Yale and Princeton. After the portraits’ defacement, Dean Martha Minow acknowledged that racism remains a “serious problem” at the school and appointed a committee to reconsider its seal. Responses from others at the Law School, though, were more muted. “[R]eformers harm themselves by nurturing an inflated sense of victimization,” Klein professor of law Randall Kennedy, one of those whose portrait was defaced, wrote in a New York Times op-ed. Climenko professor of law Charles Ogletree, whose portrait was also defaced, said he believes the incident represents constitutionally-protected free speech, and urged the University community to exercise restraint in the face of prejudice.

Law School Dean Martha Minow acknowledged that racism remains a "serious problem" at the school. 

 

Admissions Adjudication, Again

With oral arguments for the second appearance of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin before the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled on December 9, Harvard filed an amicus brief defending colleges’ and universities’ ability to consider race and ethnicity as part of their holistic evaluation of applicants for admission. Consistent with its arguments in 2012 (see “Harvard Makes Case for Diversity”)—and with such prior cases as Bakke (1978) and Grutter (2003)—the University maintained anew that in its “experience and educational judgment, a diverse community of students adds significantly to the educational experience and future success of all its graduates, from all backgrounds and races. A campus that is home to individuals with a deep and wide variety of academic interests, experiences, viewpoints, and talents enables students to challenge their own assumptions, to learn more deeply and broadly, to develop skills of collaboration and problem solving, and to begin to appreciate the spectacular complexity of the modern world.”

Urging the Court to “reaffirm its previous decisions recognizing the constitutionality of holistic admissions processes that consider each applicant as an individual and as a whole,” as embraced in Bakke, the brief contested arguments advanced by plaintiff Abigail Fisher’s counsel that would limit the proportion of applicants for whom race could be considered in admissions reviews, and narrow the evidence that could be used to make the pedagogical case for establishing diversity objectives.

The Court’s ruling is expected at the end of its term, in June.

 

Going (More) Global

Grants to support continuing and new climate-change research in China, announced in October, also heralded the launch of the Harvard Global Institute (HGI). The institute aims to secure donations which the University can channel, via grants from President Drew Faust, to support multidisciplinary research on complex global problems, possibly including urbanization, water, education, inequality, and migration. In the initial instance, a gift from Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, a commercial-property developer (among other businesses), will underwrite such research within the People’s Republic; the work will be managed by the Harvard Center Shanghai.

HGI, as described by Walker professor of business administration Krishna G. Palepu, Faust’s senior adviser for global strategy, is a virtual organization. Without building its own staff or facilities, it hopes to secure funding to underwrite faculty members’ research, and scale it up—in host countries and on campus—and to make use of and strengthen Harvard schools’ and academic centers’ existing offices and infrastructure around the world, like the Shanghai center.

Read a full report in “Going Global, Gradually.”

 

General Education Revisited

In the wake of sharp faculty criticism aired last spring about the undergraduate General Education curriculum (see “General Education Under the Microscope”), the review committee conducted town-hall conversations with professors during the fall semester to test possible reforms. The curriculum, put into effect in 2009, requires students to take courses in eight categories, designed to assure that they acquire some breadth of intellectual exposure as well as some grounding in ethical reasoning and the broader responsibilities of citizenship. Sean D. Kelly, Martignetti professor of philosophy and chair of that department, reported for the review committee last May that “in practice our program is a chimera: it has the head of a Gen Ed requirement with the body of a distribution requirement.” (The program, as implemented, allowed as general-education courses hundreds of specialized departmental offerings that failed to embody the underlying pedagogical aim.)

In a briefing for Faculty of Arts and Sciences colleagues on November 3, Kelly said that the goals of general education had been found worthwhile as the core of undergraduates’ liberal-arts education. But of the 574 or so courses deemed to qualify for General Education, only 120 were purpose-built for and effective in that role. The committee felt that requiring only four courses, rather than eight, might be adequate—so long as a course in empirical and mathematical reasoning were also required (and for which many departmental courses were well suited). In effect, this would add to the expository-writing requirement a course in quantitative skills.

But the faculty forums, he said, indicated that colleagues felt that in an era of specialized learning, four general-education courses would be too few to ensure students’ breadth of learning. Thus, on December 1, the committee proposed a four-course general-education requirement plus a three-course distribution requirement plus the new quantitative-reasoning unit. Legislation will be scheduled for faculty consideration this spring; academic advisers and the registrar’s staff may need to prepare to counsel students about complex new curriculum requirements in future academic years.