The Unwritten Constitution
The governing of Harvard is a complex and subtle matter and, as Mr. Justice Holmes said of the law, its life has not been logic: it has been experience. The logic of the President's job has remained the same for centuries past; Mr. Pusey's experience with his office suggests certain lessons, perhaps useful for future years.
Constitutionally, under the Charter of 1650, the President and Fellows have near-plenary power over all affairs of the University, subject only to the approval of the Overseers. But this power can be exercised without disastrous results only when the unwritten constitution is also looked to, and it is three guiding principles of that unspoken compact which Mr. Pusey has sometimes neglected.
First, the President must recognize (or, at a very minimum, appear to recognize) the justified and relevant concern of students with some issues technically subject only to the delegated authority of the Faculty and the ultimate authority of the Corporation. In matters of educational policy, of course, no one can question the rightness of treating undergraduate opinion primarily as a datum to be considered in arriving at a course of action, for here students' views are limited by their place in the educational hierarchy and undergraduates are properly subject to their teachers' authority. But in a matter such as diplomas, the opinions of students should weigh equally with those of the Corporation and Faculty. For President Pusey to describe diplomas as "merely a gesture from the Corporation" was accurate: it was also arrogant, provocative, and unnecessary.
President Pusey could afford to act without formally consulting student opinion (or, in other matters, faculty and alumni opinion) if he followed the second of prudence's dictates: the President should attune himself to the sympathies of his various constituencies. If he had kept his car to the ground, the President would have anticipated the strength of student feeling about diplomas. More important, he would have realized that his actions in the unsavoury Seeger affair would seem to many of this community a violation of basic principles of free inquiry. Insensitivity in Massachusetts Hall does not matter in many areas, but for Mr. Pusey to be out of touch with the values and beliefs of contemporary Harvard may in time seriously undermine the confidence of the College in his leadership.
Finally, until he gains a better intuitive understanding of the limits within which he can act, the President should refrain from taking positions with such an air of finality that he later finds it unpleasant to extricate himself from them. The desire to save face is an understandable human attribute, but that does not make it commendable. Too often, the rigidity of the President's posture has hindered efforts to solve problems facing the College. Such was the case in the 1958 Memorial Church uproar, and again in the incomparably less important diploma business.
It must be emphasized that President Pusey's errors have been largely tactical ones, unfortunate bumblings in the pursuit of usually sound goals. The lesson that the President must learn is that the governing of Harvard, like the governing of any institution, is a matter of politics. And in politics good intentions are not enough.