Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

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

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

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

Article excerpt

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 squashed the idea.

Dr. Gary A. Orfield, director and co-founder of Harvard's Civil Rights Project, 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 boom in the nation's Latino population. That opinion was joined by other Harvard faculty as well, including Dr. John Coatsworth, director of Harvard's Latin American Studies Center; Dr. Doris Sommer, professor of romance languages and literature; and former Harvard professors Drs. Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco.

"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 a professor in Harvard's Graduate School of Education. "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."

Joe Wrinn, director of Harvard's Office of News and Public Affairs, had not responded to a request for comment on the Latino studies center proposal by press time.

Facing a second no-confidence vote after the resignation announcement of 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). The FAS passed the first no-confidence measure against Summers last year following comments he made questioning the "intrinsic aptitude" of women for science and math.

According to Orfield, some faculty members have left Harvard as a result of Summers' rejection of the Latino studies proposal. Among those departing were Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco, now at New York University. Orfield says their move was "a terrible loss for Harvard."

Both Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco declined to discuss specifically why they left Harvard, but Marcelo Suarez-Orozco says Latino studies did not have a strong presence on the campus before they arrived.

"I co-taught the first course in the history of the university on Latino cultures and chaired its first Interfaculty Committee on Latino Studies," he says. …

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