Late Tuesday afternoon, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences met to consider a resolution offered by 16 professors that woudl have declared the 2-S deferment "unjust." Unfortunately, the Faculty--in its most highly attended meeting in years--did not get the chance to discuss the issue. Just after the resolution was introduced, Dean Ford recognized Oscar Handlin, Charles Warren Professor of American History, who asked that the entire matter be tabled. Under parliamentary procedure, there is no debate on a motion to table. A vote was quickly taken, the motion was passed, and the Faculty left the meeting an hour before the mandatory adjournment hour.
Many, who attended the meeting were reportedly surprised. They had come to hear or participate in a debate over the draft as it pertains to Harvard. It never came off.
Motions to table at Faculty meetings are usually made only when time is short. This was not the case Tuesday. Handlin offered his motion because he felt that the 16 professors had raised a "political" issue on which the Harvard Faculty, as a corporate body, should not take a stand. But the discussion was stopped so early that no one had a chance to question this line of reasoning, let alone the substantive issue of draft deferments.
Handlin's argument misses a major point. The University is inextricably involved in student deferments--the Administration notifies local draft boards of students' "full-time" status and "good standing"; the Faculty issues grades that may determine whether a student can retain his deferment. True, there is a political dimension to the deferments, one that will hardly be missed when a Presidential Advisory Commission reports on the Selective Service next month and when new draft legislation comes before Congress later next year. But the two factors--political and educational--cannot be separated, and the Faculty should not have ignored a problem imbedded in the educational process just because it happens to have political overtones.
More startling than the substance of the decision are its implication. For Handlin's resolution precluded a debate expected not only by many Faculty, members, but by the 1500 students who last spring signed a petition asking for a referendum on the University's policy of supplying class ranks to the local draft boards. At that time, Dean Faculty meeting in the fall. It was raised--and immediately cut down.
The spirit of this move undermines what Harvard stands for--free debate is such a natural instinct that any attempt to restrict it unreasonably should be voted down as a matter of course. Handlin should have waited for a debate to begin before he offered his motion. Now, it appears that a majority of Faculty has disregarded the desire of its minority and 1500 students for a discussion--much less a position.
President Pusey should call a special meeting before the Commission ends its deliberation. A motion to remove the original resolution from the table could be debated--along with the real issues, the 2-S deferment and the problem of the Faculty taking a stand.
Handlin is alone culpable for the ill-timed motion Tuesday. It is far more perplexing that a majority of the Faculty should have approved a maneuver calculated to stifle open discussion. And it is most discouraging that the Harvard Faculty meeting--a forum where free speech should flourish--has become the scene of such ill- conceived tactics.