Leniency for the Demonstrators
There are encouraging signs that the University will continue to exercise the wise and judicious restraint officials showed at Wednesday's sit-in demonstration in Mallinckrodt.
After seriously considering severing a substantial number of students, members of the Administration now appear to be tending to a more moderate position. If so, Harvard will be the better for it.
Wednesday's demonstration, while unpleasant in some of its aspects, does not threaten the stability of the University. Harvard is indeed, as one professor pointed out, a vulnerable University, easy to find fault with, far easier still to attack in rash and unproductive ways. Its tolerance appears at times almost unlimited, so much so that radical reformers occasionally fulminate against administrators who refuse to fight back and who decline to create eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations.
That tolerance is one of this University's greatest strengths, a tribute to its willingness to listen to all voices however shrill.
The sit-in was a justifiable form of civil disobedience, whose participants expressed a willingness to accept the consequences of their actions. Their protest was a vociferous expression of a political view, a symbolic gesture against a symbol of the war in Vietnam. Opposition to that war is widespread in this community, but the demonstrators' point of view does not vindicate their every action. There may be times when less popular but no less ardent advocates stage a similar demonstration, and their right too should be balanced against the rights of those with whom they interfere. Weighed in the balance Wednesday night, the sit-in did not require police action; it should not now provoke retribution.
There still remains the possibility that a small number of students will be singled out for some sort of punishment. That course of action is foolish and illogical. It is also unjust. The random selection of scapegoats would foster rancor instead of reflection, and would create martyrs where there is now simply an array of advocates.