NO, MR. MAYOR
The short run relationship between Harvard and the City of Cambridge has often been strained but over the long run, differences of opinion between the two have been essentially financial. Sometimes, as in the election hullabaloo last fall, the real argument is beclouded by political smoke-screens; at other times, Harvard is lambasted for "red' activities or student pranks. Still, the true bone of contention is money.
Recently Mayor Lyons proposed to President Conant that the University "contribute" $100,000 a year to the city because of the "services" Cambridge renders. President Conant's answer to this proposal, made public today, parries with beautiful logic and an extremely facile pen Mayor Lyons' request. The answer is, "No." And the President has set forth a justification of Harvard's refusal that is little short of classic. It is perhaps a Harvard Bill of Rights; it takes a firm stand on the question of taxation.
It must be remembered, however, that to many Cambridge citizens, Harvard seems a vast, sprawling Croesus, living on Cambridge soil, building its towers, providing palatial quarters for its students, causing hundreds of fires, hundreds of riots and disturbances, hundreds of traffic snarls each year. In return for this it pays nothing. Or, at best, a mere $72,000 a year. It is right that it pay more, reason those at Central Square. But this picture is fallacious. Any perusal of President Conant's letter will show such assertions deftly and straightforwardly answered.
The task of refusing Mayor Lyons' request was made considerably more difficult by the role which that worthy chose to assume--that of requesting a contribution, rather than demanding a tax provision. This has put Harvard somewhat on the defensive, and may lay it open in the future to accusations of "failing" the city. Of course, Cambridge's financial condition may indeed be due to decreased tax income. So says the Mayor. But perhaps it is more attributable to an often extremely uneconomical city government. In either case, Harvard cannot be expected to ameliorate the deficit unless it wishes to function as a sort of general sinking fund for Cambridge deficits.
In any such dispute as this, there is bound to be a conservative group within the University who believe in compromise. They may ask, why not give in a little to Cambridge? Pay the city a "contribution." Perhaps not $100,000 a year, but something. Improved relationships will be worth the price, they may argue. This attitude is as invidious as that of Mayor Lyons, and it seems likely that the Corporation has considered such a possibility and rejected it. Taxation or contributions are no matters for compromise. Either Harvard does or it does not contribute. The President says, "No." Giving in a little now will only set a precedent which could grow out of bounds with in a few years.
So, to be blunt, Mr. Mayor, Harvard has been the goat too often. The power to tax is the power to destroy, and a contribution such as Cambridge asks would be as regularly imposed as any tax. It is refreshing to realize that President Conant was not born yesterday.