TO: Judith Singer, Acting Dean The Harvard Graduate School of Education
Dear Dean Singer,
I am sending you this letter in order to initiate a formal academic complaint regarding the improper behavior of one of your senior faculty members, Prof. Gary Orfield.
Earlier this week Prof. Orfield hosted and moderated a public forum under the auspices of his Harvard Civil Rights Project regarding the proposed Massachusetts initiative dismantling bilingual education. The promotional materials for this forum characterized the topic as ?The Unz Initiative? and purported to provide an analysis of the initiative and the recent academic evidence from California, where a very similar measure had passed in 1998. Such a public discussion of an important policy issue seems very much in keeping with Harvard?s role as one of our nation?s foremost institutions of learning.
Unfortunately, although a total of eight different academics and public figures from throughout the nation were formal participants in the event?s four panels and agenda items, all of these individuals were public advocates of bilingual education and public opponents of our initiative. Not a single representative or advocate for the contrary view was invited, nor indeed even informed of the event in advance. In particular, although the subtitle of the forum was entitled ?Results from the Unz Initiative in California,? I myself, the explicit namesake of that topic, was neither contacted nor asked to furnish the names of any possible participants, academic or otherwise.
Such intellectual impropriety on the part of Prof. Orfield and the other organizers was seriously aggravated by some of the remarks that they reportedly made to the many members of the media they invited, as reported in Tuesday?s Boston Globe and other publications, and by individual eyewitnesses. Prof. Orfield and the other speakers directed numerous disparaging remarks toward me and attacked my intellectual integrity, characterizing me as a ?gadfly? whose claims constituted ?absolute fraud? and whose public statements represented mere ?gossip.?
In my opinion, it is absolutely appropriate to allow for such vigorous give-and-take at a public debate held under the auspices of a distinguished academic institution such as Harvard. However, I believe that this behavior becomes completely inappropriate when neither the direct target of such harsh intellectual charges nor his designated representatives are given any opportunity to defend themselves before the assembled media.
Furthermore, Prof. Orfield reportedly told members of the media that I had admitted to him that not a single reputable academic agreed with my position on this subject, thereby implying that neither I nor my allies were willing to attend and thereby subject our views to public scrutiny at his forum.
If he indeed made such statements, they were knowingly false, since I had previously informed him on several occasions of several very distinguished academics associated with our efforts. In particular, your own university?s Nathan Glazer serves as Chairman of our Academic Advisory Committee, another of whose members is MIT?s Steven Pinker, one of the world?s foremost psycho-linguists. Furthermore, the co-Chairs of our Massachusetts campaign include Dr. Rosalie Porter and Prof. Christine Rossell, both of whom have published very widely on the subject, and our campaign chairman is Lincoln Tamayo, who holds a graduate decree from your own School of Education. Needless to say, none of these highly-regarded individuals were invited to participate in the event or even informed of its existence. By contrast, numerous members of the local media were invited, together with an audience numbering in the hundreds.
If the leadership of Harvard University freely allows Prof. Orfield and his associates to use its name to lend credibility to harsh and knowingly false public attacks against myself and my academic colleagues, this is a very grave matter indeed, which calls into question both Harvard?s academic integrity and even its tax-exempt status. My own academic background as a theoretical physicist leads me to take very seriously public charges that I am guilty of ?absolute fraud,? especially when such charges appear to be officially sanctioned by my own esteemed alma mater. I suspect that you will agree that charges of ?absolute fraud? are among the most serious possible attacks that one can level within the academic community.
This intellectually disreputable behavior by senior Harvard personnel was particularly surprising considering my previous involvement in similar Harvard events. Just last October 15th, I very gladly participated in a formal debate on exactly the same topic with Catherine Snow of your Graduate School of Education, before an enthusiastic standing-room-only audience numbering many hundreds, which actually included Prof. Orfield. Several years ago, I similarly participated in a Kennedy School debate on the California initiative that was actually moderated by Prof. Christopher Edley, the co-Director of Monday?s forum. This record of past participation by myself and my colleagues at Harvard forums renders Prof. Orfield?s alleged comments to the media particularly questionable.
After confidentially discussing the apparent details of these events with two of Harvard most senior administrative officers and academics, there was general agreement that I should take formal action on this disturbing matter, which I am hereby doing.
I am requesting that you undertake an official inquiry into these very serious academic charges against Prof. Orfield and his associates, and if you determine that they are correct, apply appropriate administrative sanctions. Such sanctions might include requiring Prof. Gary Orfield and any other individuals responsible to provide formal apologies to myself and my associates, and issuing formal academic reprimands, placing these in the permanent official files of the guilty parties.
By lending its official name to this dishonest and intellectually disreputable forum, Harvard has seriously besmirched its reputation, and as a proud alumnus of your esteemed institution, I strongly urge that you take vigorous and immediate action to rectify this potential embarrassment to your academic good name.
I look forward to your expeditious response to this urgent matter, and may be easily reached at 1-650- 853-0367 or via email at [email protected]
Ron Unz, Chairman English for the Children Harvard Class of 1983
cc: Prof. Gary Orfield President Laurence Summers