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Summers’ Nixing of Latino Studies a Deal Breaker for Some Harvard Faculty

Summers’ Nixing of Latino Studies a Deal Breaker for Some Harvard Faculty

By David Pluviose

      In the months following his ascension to the presidency in July 2001, Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers was presented with two proposals to boost multicultural research at the university. First was a proposal to create a Latino studies center in the mold of the university’s much-respected Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Summers nixed the plan. Later, he was presented with a new proposal, this time for an immigration studies center. Again, he vetoed the plan.

      Dr. Gary A. Orfield, professor of education and social policy, and his colleagues felt that Harvard “was a logical place to create a ‘Dream Team’ to work on issues of Latino problems in the U.S.,” given the explosive boom in the nation’s Latino population.

      “We thought it was a wonderful idea and a unique opportunity for Harvard, and it was shot down by Larry Summers,” says Orfield, who is also director and co-founder of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard. “And we came back with a proposal to do one on immigration since he didn’t want anything that dealt directly with Latinos as an ethnic group, and that was shot down as well.”

      According to Orfield, some faculty members have left Harvard as a result of Summers’ rejection of the Latino studies proposal. Among those departing were Drs. Marcelo and Carola Suárez-Orozco, now at NYU. Orfield says they’re move was “a terrible loss for Harvard.”

      “There’s virtually no faculty who work on Latino issues at [Harvard]. The only really prominent one is [Dr.] David Carrasco in the Divinity School,” Orfield says. “There’s just no faculty in the arts and sciences particularly. There’s a few in education and public health and other places.”

      Dr. Loui Olivas, president of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and vice president for academic affairs at Arizona State University, says Latino issues relating to matriculation, financial aid, faculty hires, tenure and the hiring of university presidents have been covered by major universities on the periphery “from a Latino perspective.

      “The data clearly shows that we’re rapidly moving to an extremely diverse U.S. population, and lacking in the sense of direction is the strategic focus of what does [that] mean to institutions of higher education,” Olivas says.

      Given this nation’s rapidly changing demographics, Olivas says now is the time to embark on Latino studies initiatives like Orfield and his colleagues sought to establish at Harvard.

 “I think this is a prime opportunity to focus on how the changing U.S. demography affects Latinos in higher education,” Olivas says. “A multitude of Latino initiatives that could be developed at Harvard, that could be developed at Stanford, that could be developed at other leading higher education institutions, are needed.”

      Orfield echoes that sentiment.

      “Most of the Latino studies centers are more regional and primarily about one nationality group, and we could have had an opportunity to do some really path-breaking work,” he says. “[Summers] said that it would create divisions in the country.”

      Facing a second no-confidence vote after the resignation of current Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Dean William C. Kirby, Summers announced in February that he will resign at the end of this academic term (see Diverse, March 9, 2006). The FAS passed a no-confidence measure against Summers last year following comments he made questioning the “intrinsic aptitude” of women for science and math.

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