Donald Harris

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Donald Harris 1989

Template:TOCnestleft Donald Harris was married to Shyamala Gopalan. He is the father of Kamala Harris and Maya Harris.

He was was born in 1938 in Jamaica. Donald Harrris also served as adviser to former prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley.


Harris received a Bachelor of Arts degree from London University in 1960. Six years later he was given a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of California.


Harris began his career as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in 1965. Two years later he took a position of an assistant professor at Northwestern University. Then in 1968, Harris was appointed an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin. In 1972, he became a professor of economics at Stanford University and held it until his retirement as a professor of economics emeritus at the same university. Also Harris served as a director of Consortium Graduate School of Social Science from 1986 to 1987.

In addition, he has travelled widely, doing research, consulting, giving seminars and invited lectures in the Caribbean, Canada, England, Holland, France, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. Also Harris is a consultant to international agencies, governments and private foundations.

Harris was a leader in developing the new program in Alternative Approaches to Economic Analysis as a field of graduate study at Stanford University.[1]

Ford Foundation

National Research Council-Ford Foundation 1984 - 1985.[2]

Harris and Gopalan

Kamala Harris regularly describes her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, as the most important influence on her life. A breast cancer researcher from India who had a powerful presence despite her five-foot stature, she died of colon cancer in 2009. Donald Harris, Kamala’s father, is a retired leftist Stanford economics professor from Jamaica who studied issues such as income inequality but was less of an impact on her life after the couple divorced when she was a child.

“She has been telling her family’s story her entire political career,” said Jim Stearns, who ran Harris’ first campaign for San Francisco district attorney. “Everybody has to find their own foundation story, and she’s been consistent — she places a lot of value on her roots, and her mom is a huge impact.”

Both of Harris’ parents came to UC Berkeley for graduate school and unexpectedly found themselves staying because of each other.

Gopalan was the precocious daughter of an Indian diplomat and a women’s rights activist in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. After graduating from the University of Delhi at age 19, she moved to Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology, having never set foot in the U.S. before. Donald Harris also excelled at a young age, graduating from the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica before coming to Berkeley.

The two didn’t meet in the classroom but amid the protests that convulsed campus in the 60’s. On Sundays, they gathered with a group of like-minded students to discuss the black writers overlooked by the university curriculum and debate about politics, decolonization and activism.

“I was in awe of them,” said Aubrey LaBrie, 81, an undergraduate in the group who Harris refers to as “Uncle Aubrey” in her recent book. “They were serious students and so articulate, but also really cared” about their activism.

The young couple married while still in school, with Gopalan rejecting her family’s tradition of arranged marriage. At age 25, she earned her Ph.D. from Berkeley and gave birth to Kamala in Oakland, working up until the moment her water broke, according to the senator’s memoir.

Harris and Gopalan threw themselves into the civil rights movement, bringing a young Kamala to protests in a stroller. Gopalan met Martin Luther King, Jr. when he spoke at Berkeley in 1967. Kamala also visited far-flung family in India and Jamaica as she grew up, getting her first taste of the broader world.

Her parents separated after Donald Harris took a professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Gopalan filed for divorce in December 1971, when Kamala was 7, according to court records, and won custody of her daughters in June 1973. “They didn’t fight about money,” Kamala wrote. “The only thing they fought about was who got the books.”

Kamala and her younger sister Maya Harris- now her presidential campaign chair — still visited their father during summers and holidays. But their mother became the central figure in Kamala’s life. [3]

African-American Association

At the start of the 1960s, however, Donald Harris’s search for “alternative approaches” would bear more fruit off campus than on, where fewer than a hundred of Berkeley’s 20,000 students were black. United by a sense of isolation and displacement, a dozen of them began to gather at the Harmon Street house of Mary Lewis, an undergraduate from Detroit. Shyamala Gopalan and Donald soon joined the group; Lewis eventually became Shyamala’s “closest confidante” and Kamala’s godmother, according to “The Truths We Hold.”

“I was awed by them,” says early member Aubrey Labrie, whom Kamala eventually came to know as “Uncle Aubrey.” (Lewis was “Aunt Mary.”) “They were intimidatingly smart. They had a determined kind of posture about them.”

Every Sunday, Lewis would host student intellectuals as they “socialized and talked politics incessantly,” writes Donna Jean Murch in “Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.” “Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were the heroes of some of us,” Labrie recalls. “We would talk about Black Muslims, the liberation movements going on in Africa, everything.”

They would also read. As both Murch and Harris note in their books, the initial syllabus was full of “classic black history texts” such as W.E.B. Du Bois’s “The Souls of Black Folk,” Carter G. Woodson’s “The Miseducation of the Negro” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” But it was the more contentious readings — the ones Harris doesn’t mention — that proved most influential: E. David Cronon’s “Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey,” which celebrated Garvey’s pioneering emphasis on racial pride and self-determination; Melville J. Herskovits’s “The Myth of the Negro Past,” which championed pan-Africanism in culture and religion; E. Franklin Frazier’s “Black Bourgeoisie,” which criticized a compliant black middle class.

As they discussed and debated these books, Murch writes, the study group gradually developed “its own antiassimilationist ideology”: “a reinvigorated, anticolonial Black nationalism,” more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King Jr. By 1963, the organization, now called the African-American Association, had quadrupled in size; guest speakers included Fannie Lou Hamer, LeRoi Jones and Maya Angelou. The AAA’s de facto leader, a Berkeley law student named Donald Warden, would go on to mentor Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, two young AAA members from Oakland; Newton and Seale would, in turn, co-found the Black Panther Party in 1966.

The people close to Kamala Harris’s parents were never Black Panthers. But they did embrace an embryonic version of the philosophy that later came to be known as “Black Power”: black pride, black autonomy and the creation of black political and cultural institutions. According to Labrie, Shyamala Gopalan was the original study group’s only non-black member — the exception that proved the rule. “Her inclusion had a lot to do with the fact that we were really supportive of the Third World liberation movement, so we didn’t really get into that whole debate who was ‘black’ or not,” Labrie says. “But I will admit that a white person wouldn’t have been welcome into that kind of setting. It wasn’t because there was hostility towards them. We just felt more confident and comfortable getting our own thoughts and information together as black people.”

Bring back Don!

By Ray Olszewski


On March 11 1974, a Stanford Daily article reported renewed demands by the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) on the Economics Dept. for a commitment to teaching Marxian economics. Statements by department chairman Moses Abramovitz quoted in that article constitute a clear attempt on his part to obscure and distort the issues Abramovitz cited "the Marxian economics workshop that is now a regular departmental seminar, a graduate theory course on Marx, Donald Harris' courses, and the recently approved field of study in 'alternative approaches to economic analysis.'"

His list sounds impressive until you look more closely. Harris' courses will end this spring when his contract expires; departmental failure to consider a tenure offer to Harris was one reason we drafted our recent statement. The seminar is now sponsored by Gurley and Harris; Harris will be gone next year, and Gurley will be on leave Autumn quarter. The graduate theory course is Jack Gurley's. It's a good course, but a single course can but scratch the surface of a topic as vast as Marxian economics. And the new field, which is not Marxian economics, is an empty shell until someone is hired to teach it.

The relevant search committee has just begun soliciting names, and, given its late start, may find itself unable to find anyone qualified who is available for next year. This last fact makes particularly ironic Abramovitz's chiding us for "showing no patience" and trying to "needle the faculty." But had we kept silent, no action would have been taken by the faculty to provide for any graduate offerings in Marxian economics next year. In fact, nothing was done until we circulated a petition which made clear extensive student support for a Marxian economics program. Last December, I and others sent Abramovitz a letter in which we noted that nothing had been done by the department to find out what Marxians were in the job market. We noted that such a preliminary search would "preclude the suggestion that the department enters this discussion having already determined a negative response." Abramovitz never responded to this, yet he wonders that we are "impatient." ( Ray Olszewski is a graduate student in economics.[4]

URPE campaign

On Friday, Nov. 5 1976, the Daily published a column signed by 10 Economics Department faculty charging there had been a "blatant distortion of the facts" concerning the recent struggle in the department over the study of Marxian economics.

The Stanford chapter of the Union for Radical Political Economics (IJRPE) is responding to the faculty column in order to clarify who is engaging in a "blatant distortion of the facts." The faculty column presents itself as an attempt to refute the notion that "there is a campaign in the Economics Department to suppress the teaching of radical economics." The column cites the presence of faculty and courses in Marxian economics as evidence against such a campaign. The column creates the impression that the department has welcomed the strengthening of the program in Marxian economics, but the history of the program demonstrates that the contrary is true. Active opposition While individual faculty members have supported the program at various times, many others have actively opposed it all along, and such opposition has been sufficient to impede change.

The program in Marxian economics would be much weaker than it is today if had it not been for massive student efforts in the form of petitions, open meetings, and extensive lobbying of individual faculty members. In particular, the faculty column suggests that the presence of Marxian economists in the department and the recent expansion of course offerings in Marxian economics reflects a friendly departmental attitude toward the J program. The column fails to mention that it was only after a divisive one and a one-half year struggle that the opposing elements in the department gave : into student pressure and conceded to ' the appointment of Prof. Donald Harris. . Thus the presence of Marxian economists here simply indicates the success of the student struggle. The uniform lack of Marxists at other major . universities only reflects the pervasiveness of discrimination against, Marxists throughout the American : economics profession. | The recent addition of course offerings in Marxian economics is again a direct result of student pressure, not departmental benevolence.

There was especially strong resistance by the department to establishing a graduate ' field having equal status with eaiji of the 13 traditional fields. Latest episode The dumping of Assoc. Prof. Duncan Foley is the latest episode in the department's campaign against Marxian economics. His research in traditional theory has established him as, one of the leading young theorists in ' the country on top of which he has an outstanding reputation as a teacher. But because he has recently developed in interest in Marxian approaches to . monetary theory, the department has decided to dump him. Perhaps the most "blatant distortion . of the facts" is the faculty column's ' attempt to imply that student interest ' in Marxian economics is relatively, weak. They state. "The number of graduate students offering Alternative Approaches to Economics as a field for | their Ph.D. in the last two years was substantially fewer than the number

taking many of the major applied subfields." Out of context This fact has been completely torn out of context. Two years ago, two of the three courses in the field were taught by a visiting faculty member who, because of the temporary nature of his appointment, was severely limited in his ability to attract students into the field. This observation was previously made by one of the signers of the faculty letter. Large numbers of first and second year students have taken and are taking courses in the field, and many will be taking the comprehensive this year (including some second year students who did the coursework last year but delayed the exam). Further, the column ignores the fact that among advanced students, there are a large number of people doing research in the Alternative Approaches seminar, and many are pursuing dissertations in the field. No denial Finally, the faculty claim that the notion that they share a "common ideology is at best erroneous, at worst ridiculous." We do not deny that the faculty have a diversity of views, ranging from "extremely conservative to quite liberal" on the issues raised by neoclassical economics. But there is general agreement among the faculty over what those issues are. Within the neoclassical paradigm, only certain kinds of questions can be asked, only certain abstractions of economic relationshi ps into theory are believed appropriate, only certain methodological approaches are deemed valid. Marxian economics represents a fundamental alternative. The divergence between Marxian economics and neoclassical economics is far greater than the divergence within neoclassical economics. To sum up: In response to I JRPE's charges, the faculty column's denial of the existence of political discrimination is the real "blatant distortion of the facts." The only adequate response the faculty can make is to end that discrimination. A tenure offer to Foley would be an appropriate first step in that direction.

Bill Dittenhofer, Ari Cohen, Eric Berg, Tracy Mott, David O'Connor, Arthur Slepian and Sandy Thompson submitted this column on behalf of the Stanford chapter of the Union for Radical Political Economics.[5]

Marxist professor at Stanford


In 1975 Don Harris, a prominent Marxist professor, was offered a full professorship in the Economics Department at Stanford University, Department Chairman James Rosse confirmed May 12. Rosse said Harris has not yet accepted the offer, but he "expects to hear from him this week." Harris, who still held a tenured position at the University of Wisconsin, had served as a visiting professor at Stanford, and was at he time teaching at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. The appointment is the direct result of student pressure in recent years to hire more faculty who favor an "alternative approach" to economics, said Economics Prof. John Gurley, who now teaches the only undergraduate course in Marxist econmics. Gurley said the appointment of Harris was the culmination of a six-month "round-the-world" search for the most qualified Marxist professor available.

'Exceptionally Good' Gurley called Harris "an exceptionally good teacher, outstanding researcher and one of the leading young people in Marxist economics." One knowledgeable source told the Daily that some senior faculty members were very hesitant about hiring Harris, but that they gradually yielded to student pressure. A conservative economics faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was "not part of the decision and it would thus be fair not to say anything." He also added that "as far as I'm concerned, [Harris] is not in the same field I'm in." Alternatives The department, Gurley said, looked for economists who espoused not only Marxist viewpoints, but other alternative perspectives as well. Libertarian economists, who advocate un trammeled laissez-faire capitalism, for example, also were considered in the selection, he claimed. Gurley said the search included those knowledgeable about socialist economies, even if they didn't sympathize with a Marxist system.

He admitted, however, that for most of the students involved in the struggle for an alternative economist, "alternative meant Marxist." The search will continue for qualified non-traditional economists, Gurley said. With the addition of Harris, the department would be able to offer a much greater number of courses taught from a Marxist viewpoint. Harris is expected to be a popular choice among students who have fought for more alternative economists. "When the students were looking for someone last year, they wanted him," said SWOPSI Director Andy Panies, a Marxist economist recently fired from San Jose State University. New course offerings in radical economics for 1975-76 are expected to include seminars in "Imperialism and Dependency," "Marxian Social Change," and "Marxist Economic Theory." Two sections of Economics 120 will be offered, and a new undergraduate course taught by Harris may be added.[6]

"The Black Ghetto as Colony"

"The Black Ghetto as Colony: A Theoretical Critique" by DJ Harris - ‎1972.

"Capitalist Exploitation and Black Labor"

"Capitalist Exploitation and Black Labor: Some Conceptual Issues" Donald J. Harris First Published January 1, 1978.

Recommended appointees for a new Administration

In the 1988 book "Winning America: Ideas and Leadership for the 1990s" edited by Marcus Raskin, Chester Hartman, Sean Gervasi recommended Barry Bluestone, Gar Alperovitz, Donald Harris, Robert Browne, Jeff Faux, Carol O'Cleireacain, Jamie Galbraith, Howard Wachtel, Bennet T. Harrison, Michael Tanzer and Arthur MacEwan as recommended appointees for a new Administration page 24, 25).

"An economist who questioned conventional wisdom"

Kamala Harris wasn’t as close with her father over the years, although she and Maya visited him during summer vacations after he moved to Stanford in 1972. He was the first and only black professor in the economics department at the time, according to contemporaries, and one of just a handful of black professors at the university.

Harris, who went by Don, was popular among students for his skepticism of prevailing economic views. When Harris was scheduled to leave Stanford after his two-year visiting professorship in 1974, students objected that the university wasn’t doing enough to hire and retain “radical” and “Marxist” professors with a diversity of economic ideas, according to an article in the Stanford Daily newspaper. One op-ed described Harris as being considered “too charismatic, a pied piper leading students astray from neo-classical economics.”

Administrators decided to keep him on as a full professor in 1975, and Harris helped develop a program of “alternative approaches to economic analysis,” where students explored theories, including Marxism, that went against the dominant views of the time. He wrote about uneven economic development, explaining how difficult it was for poor countries to catch up with rich countries and the impact of income inequality for black Americans — ideas that seem to have echoes in his daughter’s policy agenda today.

Several of his former students said it wasn’t accurate to describe him as Marxist, although “he might have been a lot more sympathetic to Marx than a lot of other economists were at the time,” said Tracy Mott, who’s now a professor at the University of Denver. Duncan Foley, a colleague of Harris’, said his views questioning the global economic model were ahead of their time and have gained ground since the 2008 financial crisis.

Harris’ lectures — delivered in a light Jamaican lilt — were engaging but theoretical. “We didn’t talk in his classes about whether we should have a higher or lower corporate tax rate or anything like that,” said Steven Fazzari, one of his students, who’s now an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “It was the deeper understanding of what makes economies change and grow over time.”

Sometimes, he’d bring students to blues concerts, seeing BB King or Bobby “Blue” Bland when they came to the Bay Area. Colleagues remember him as friendly but reserved about his personal life. One of Kamala’s memories of Palo Alto, she told the Los Angeles Times in 2015, was her father’s neighbors not letting their kids play with her or her sister because they were black.

Mott said that watching Senator Harris grill Trump appointees on TV always made him think of the way her father asked his students tough questions in his classroom.

“She always is very analytical and really can figure out what’s the insightful thing to ask,” he said. “Just like him.” [7]