Dream signing for Harvard

February 23, 1996

Henry Louis Gates, the literary critic and New Yorker writer, called it the "coup of the coups" when Harvard University finally poached William Julius Wilson from the University of Chicago.

Professor Gates played a central role in persuading the noted sociologist to join Harvard, partly to assume a chair at the Kennedy School of Government, but also as a member of the department of Afro-American studies which Professor Gates heads.

Harvard now promises to be an intellectual powerhouse for black scholarship, with professors Gates, Wilson, and philosopher Cornel West. It may mark the coming of age for the young discipline of Afro-American studies, United States scholars say. Five years ago Harvard's department had just a few students gathered round one professor, who was white. Now it has 40 students gathered around what Professor Gates called an intellectual "dream team".

Professor Wilson, 60, is the author of The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, among a list of influential writings on race and economics. His decision to leave Chicago's Center for the Study of Urban Inequality made national news. Harvard has wooed him for years, and he turned down one offer in 1989.

The rising reputation of the Kennedy School was probably part of what drew him, Professor Gates said. But Professor Wilson also told Newsweek magazine that a "community of scholars" is required to fuel national debate and drive bold new thinking on the issues of poverty and joblessness in the inner cities. In The Truly Disadvantaged, Professor Wilson argues that the departure of industry from cities has pulled the first rung of the economic ladder out of reach of urban blacks.

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