Harvard University has canceled a new course, “Data Fusion in Complex Systems: A Case Study” by School of Engineering and Applied Sciences bioengineering Professor Kevin Kit Parker after a widespread petition called for its withdrawal.
The petition against the class, meant to teach police counterinsurgency tactics and seen as targeting “black and brown neighborhoods,” was documented extensively on Twitter by Avriel Epps-Darling, a PhD student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
So apparently Harvard is offering a course on the merits of counterinsurgency tactics used to police black and brown neighborhoods????
Not surprised but still disgusted. pic.twitter.com/ZLssf4kKG0
— Avriel Epps-Darling (@kingavriel) January 22, 2021
Several student organizations began circulating a petition on Sunday demanding the course be reviewed and withdrawn from the catalog. By Tuesday, the class was canceled and the administration is reported to be reviewing class approval processes.
In an email sent out on the student listserv, Parker introduced the class as a one-time opportunity to study the use of Counter-Criminal Continuum Policing (C3) in a community setting — particularly in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The method involves holding community meetings to brainstorm neighborhood solutions that can reduce gang violence and raise awareness about reporting suspicious activity through a team of resident “street leaders,” as reported by the New York Times.
Parker has been researching the law enforcement method since 2010, which is based on military counterinsurgency tactics used in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Credentials and Conflict of Interest
In a joint letter sent to Harvard, students pointed out that Parker has “little apparent background in the fields of data science or policing,” questioning his capacity to teach the subject.
Furthermore, it was revealed that Parker’s participation in the class may represent a conflict of interest. In his email introducing the course, Parker referred to “his friend” Michael Cutone, “who co-founded Trinity Project, a consultancy company training officers in the C3 program, and profits from offering such training,” the letter said.
The lack of transparency regaring the relationship between Trinity Project and Parker gives “rise to questions about Professor Parker’s interests in profiting off of the course’s research findings,” it further said.
Finally, students pointed out that some work students do in the course “is not unlike the work graduate students do as part of their dissertations or as paid research assistants in faculty-run labs.”
“In essence, he is requesting that students take this course, pay the tuition associated with attendance, and carry out free labor for his personal project,” they wrote. “In a time when the value of graduate student worker labor is both underestimated and unfortunately precarious, it is critical to pay students for their work.”