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Harvard may grab forefront in fight for better race relations on campus

Harvard, its historic "yard" often the scene of black student unrest the past two years, has moved to give high priority to affirmative action and race relations in the 1980s.

Two actions -- one establishing a new affirmative action policy that commits the university to more equitable hiring of minorities and women and the other to consider a newly proposed foundation "for the improvement of racial relations on campus" -- could place Harvard in the forefront of acting on race relations issues.

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Some observers maintain that increased unrest here and on many other university campuses across the country can be traced to the Bakke "reverse discrimination" case, decided in 1978. In that case, the US Supreme Court ruled that racial quotas in college enrollment are illegal and ordered the University of California at Davis to admit a white student to its medical school, which had set a quota for admission of black students.

The minority enrollment question lost its status as a critical campus issue as a result of the Bakke case, says James E. Blackwell, president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

According to Dr. Blackwell, many universities no longer feel the imperative to increase black enrollment. Some of the results of this lessened concern have shown up in:

* Many colleges relaxing their efforts to recruit black students and faculty in recent years.

* An increased feeling of isolation among black students now on campuses.

"A continuation of this approach could eventually lead to nationwide campus unrest and demonstrations among black students," Blackwell says.

Harvard's approach to dealing with these issues, according to Nancy Randolph, special assistant to president Derek C. Bok, includes an affirmative action program that commits each department of the university -- from the office of president to the Department of Arts and Sciences -- to establish specific goals in the hiring of minorities and women at every level.

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Affirmative action under the program will be decentralized to make each faculty or department responsible for its own employment policies, says Dr. Randolph. She will be responsible for monitoring their efforts, working with the university's personnel office to strengthen recruitment of minorities and women and planning affirmative action workshops.

President Bok will also be considering a special report which recommends that Harvard set up a new foundation designed to enhance race relations on campus. This foundation would be student-controlled and housed on campus, with the university footing operational expenses.

The proposed foundation was recommended by a nine-member student-faculty committee headed by the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals. It would be patterned after Harvard's Phillips Brooks House, an organization founded before the turn of the century to help students of various religions feel welcome on campus.

The new foundation would not be limited to minority students, providing outreach to all Harvard students, the committee suggests.

Coming on the heels of two years of uneasy race relations and a demand by black and other minority students for such a support facility, the proposed foundation is seen as a unique response to race-relations issues.

President Bok commended the special committee which came up with the plan. Bok says he "will refrain from commenting in detail" on the report until it has been discussed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The faculty has placed the foundation on the agenda of its February meeting.

The report deserves "careful consideration," Bok says. "I am particularly heartened by the committee's determination to uphold the university's commitment to an integrated and pluralistic community and to fashion recommendations which will further that commitment by helping to increase our understanding and appreciation of all people and our awareness of different cultural traditions and perspectives."

Georgia Hill of Detroit and Leroy Collins of Cedarhurst, N.Y., both members of the Black Students Association, term the proposal a workable idea on a "touchy issue.

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