The Harvard Chemistry Department Reunion — Part I

A great affair with over 150 returning chemists, current grad students and post-docs.  Far too much to discuss in one post.  The most interesting facet was what I didn’t see.

 Gregory (Scotland Yard): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident

So what was the curious incident?   There were no American Blacks in evidence anywhere, something I noticed only in retrospect.  My favorite Democrats of the 60s (Bull Connor, Orville Faubus, Governor Wallace) would have loved it.  Well, perhaps not — there were many Asians there, mostly the far East with only a few from the Indian subcontinent.  Clearly, I couldn’t talk to everyone, but I met two grad students from Beijing.

What’s going on?  Clearly the lack of blacks didn’t start here.   The following is from a post from November of 2009 when I was auditing a Quantum Mechanics course at an elite woman’s college.

“The science library building where classes are held and the new science building are beautiful and little expense appears to have been spared (this is an elite woman’s college after all). 30% of the students are science majors, but I think I’ve only seen perhaps 2 – 3 blacks in the building all semester. I called administration to find out how many were enrolled and they told me the figure was 7%. In the physical chemistry course at the local branch of the state university I audited last year blacks probably accounted for 10% of the (much larger) class, but even there at least half of them were from Africa (or Haiti). I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t think it’s healthy.

Nonetheless this is a huge change from 50+ years ago. There was 1 black in my entering Ivy league class of 700+. A few years later in another Ivy league med school there was one black in a class of 125 (he was from Nigeria). Like it or not, there is a strong hereditary component to intelligence, and if the blacks presently in college are smart enough to do the work (which they are), so were their parents and their grandparents. This country has wasted a lot of brainpower in the past.”

So although it is a problem for Harvard, it is more general.  Now there are plenty of black undergraduates at Harvard.  For some kvetching (by a black) that a lot of them are African and not American — see http://www.thegrio.com/specials/the-ygb/harvard-has-more-black-students-than-ever-but-are-they-african-american.php?page=2.

Why aren’t blacks going into science? I exclude medicine because they are showing up here, and doing quite well, thank you.  I don’t know.  They should.  Science needs their brains.

I find it amusing that Harvard, that bastion of liberalism and forward thinking, could be sued under “disparate impact” .  Here’s what Wikipedia says about the matter.art

In United States employment law, the doctrine of disparate impact holds that employment practices may be considered discriminatory and illegal if they have a disproportionate “adverse impact” on members of a minority group. Under the doctrine, a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act may be proven by showing that an employment practice or policy has a disproportionately adverse effect on members of the protected class as compared with non-members of the protected class.[1]

The doctrine entails that “A facially neutral employment practice is one that does not appear to be discriminatory on its face; rather it is one that is discriminatory in its application or effect.”[2] Where a disparate impact is shown, the plaintiff can prevail without the necessity of showing intentional discrimination unless the defendant employer demonstrates that the practice or policy in question has a demonstrable relationship to the requirements of the job in question.[3] This is the so-called “business necessity” defense.[1]


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