Once again, the National Defense Education Act is an issue at Harvard. The University's two-year campaign to remove the Act's obnoxious affidavit has failed. And,while President Pusey's opposition to the disclaimer has not changed, political and economic circumstances have. Very properly, then, the President is taking the matter before the Faculty in today's meeting: his question is whether Harvard should continue what may be a losing fight.
The answer to that difficult question must be yes. Whatever the cost, whatever the outcome, the University must stand firm. It must continue its opposition to the affidavit because there are compelling moral arguments against it, arguments which circumstances cannot alter; because the outcome of the affidavit controversy will affect the future of all plans for federal aid to universities; and because the political battle against the affidavit it not yet lost.
The moral arguments against such an affidavit are many, but several are worth repeating. Legally, the disclaimer provides criminal penalties for a false statement on questions of belief or opinion. Far worse, any university which administers this vaguely-worded affidavit becomes an instrument of the government, enforcing an official, safe norm of belief. Although it has been suggested that Harvard accept NDEA money and provide separate scholarship funds for those students who refuse to sign the affidavit, this suggestion begs the moral question. In an NDEA loan, the University would provide one-tenth of the money and would have to administer the disclaimer affidavit. Harvard's own funds would thus be placed under government restrictions, and the University would be in the impossible moral position of administering an affidavit it did not believe in.
The affidavit represents a shabby attempt on the part of the government to purchase loyalty. The truly loyal will be repelled and alienated by this token of their government's suspicion, while the disloyal will not balk at signing a scrap of paper.
NDEA represents a new era in the financing of American education, an era in which the bulk of financial aid to universities will be in the hands of non-academic authorities. No one who has followed the growing crisis in American universities--both public and private--for the past decade can deny that federal money will become more and more necessary to their survival. At the same time, no one concerned with academic freedom can fail to see the threat such aid poses. The NDEA disclaimer affidavit constitutes an unhealthy chauvinist precedent for government-university relations in this new era.
A more subtle objection to the disclaimer is the invidious light it casts on the academic community. That teachers and students should be singled out from all other Americans as potential traitors does not speak well for the future--a future, it should be added, when these same teachers and students will be expected to play larger and larger roles in a more complicated society. The affidavit is a symbol of hate from a hysterical past, a badge of suspicion of ideas and of men who use them. As long as it is enforced it will indicate an ugly fact--that academic freedom has become a cliche in America before it has become a reality.
Because Harvard has failed for the moment to move Congress is no reason for Harvard to sell out. The University is one of the few institutions in the nation still wealthy enough to defy Congress on this kind of issue. Such wealth incurs responsibilities, and in the NDEA fight Harvard has inescapable obligations to that community, and to its own liberal conception of what future relations between the government and the colleges ought to be.
The foes of the disclaimer should not despair prematurely. Their cause fell victim to the fortunes of the Cold War and to the vagaries of a conservative Congress much given to bursts of patriotism. The Cold War and the Congress will change, and then Harvard must be ready to move. Meanwhile the University must hope that President Kennedy has not forgotten his courageous stand in the Senate against the disclaimer. Certainly there have been much more pressing issues before the President in these past months, and one understands his refusal to undertake another losing fight on what must seem a minor point. In reality, though, this fight involves the shape of federal aid to universities in the future, and the recognition that academic freedom must not decline as federal aid to colleges grows. Surely this is not a minor point.