The following are excerpts from Corporation member Granville Clark '03's letters to Frank B. Ober LI.B. '13:
While I write at Mr. Conant's suggestion, I do so only as an individual--although I do believe that my convictions are held by the vast majority of Harvard men.
Let me say at once that your proposals--apparently to dismiss or censure two professors, and certainly to impose drastic controls on the activities as citizens of all professors--cannot and will not be adopted at Harvard, so long as Harvard remains true to her principles . . .
I do not see how you can expect reasonable men to think of participation in open and legal meetings on public subjects as the equivalent of secret plotting to commit crime, merely because Communists or "fellow travelers" take part in such meetings. On this line of reasoning, literally thousands of reputable citizens would have offended. By no possibility could Harvard adopt a view which, to put it mildly, is so extreme. To do so would, I believe, call for conclusions which offend common sense and for efforts at repression that would be out of place anywhere in our country and are inconceivable at Harvard . . .
The fundamental reason is that for Harvard to take the course you recommend would be to repudiate the very essense of what Harvard stands for--the search for truth by a free and uncoerced body of students and teachers. And it would be to make a mockery of a long tradition of Harvard freedom for both its students and its faculties. . .
These declarations of three Harvard presidents are, as you observe, all of a piece. They embody a consistent doctrine that can, I think, be summed up as follows:
(1) Harvard believes in the "free trade in ideas" of Justice Holmes--a graduate of 1861--which is no more than saying that she believes in the principles of Milton's "Arcopagitica" (1644), of Jefferson's First Inaugural (1801), and of Mill's "Essay on Liberty" (1859). She thinks that repression is not wise or workable under our system, that wide latitude for conflicting views affords the best chance for good government, and that in suppression usually lies the greater peril. Harvard is not afraid of freedom, and believes adherence to this principle to be fundamental for our universities and for the integrity of our institutions.
Rights of Expression
(2) She believes that the members of the faculties, in their capacity as citizens, have the same rights to express themselves as other citizens, and that those rights should not be restricted by the University by trying to keep a "watch" on professors or otherwise.
(3) She believes that wide limits for free expression by professors are in the interest of her students as well as the teachers. The teachers have rights as citizens to speak and write as men of independence; the students also have their rights to be taught by men of independent mind.
(4) Harvard, like any great privately supported university, badly needs money: but Harvard will accept no gift on the condition, express or implied that it shall compromise its tradition of freedom . . .
For if the professors have always to conform and avoid unpopular views whether in class or out what kind of men will they be? And where will our young men and women go to hear and weigh new ideas, to consider both sides and acquire balance and integrity?
In Six Months . . .
What sort of a place would Harvard be it if went down this road? It would, I think not require six months to destroy the morale of both our teachers and students, and thereby our usefulness to the country. I think one need do no more than state the necessary implications of what you ask to demonstrate that nothing could be more alien to the principle of free expression that Harvard stands for. . .
Nothing of this character will happen under Mr. Conant. There will be no harassment of professors for engaging in open and legal meetings. There will be no apparatus of inquiry and "closer watch." The harm done by the effort necessary to discover even a single clan-destine Party Member would outweigh any possible benefit. To go beyond that by searching for "reasonable grounds" concerning "loyalty," would still more disrupt Harvard or any free university.