IN WHAT MAY have been one of its last closed meetings, the Harvard Faculty yesterday handled two sensitive issues with extraordinary independence and intelligence. By rejecting the Administrative Board's recommendation that five of the Paine Hall demonstrators be forced to leave school, the Faculty avoided an irrational and inflammatory gesture. And by voting to reevaluate it own procedures at a meeting next week before the ROTC issue is decided, the Faculty recognized that its tradition of semi-secret meetings may need immediate reform.
Suspending the five Paine demonstrators who were on probation last year for sitting in at Mallinckrodt would have been a disastrous error. It is hard to understand how even eight of the fifteen voting members of the Ad Board could have backed this proposal; the only rationale given for drastically increasing a student's punishment because of his past record in political demonstrations was a filmsy analogy to criminal law. And a piece of harsh disciplinary action backed by neither reason or precedent is just the sort of spark that could set off a paralyzing protest at Harvard.
Professor Alan Heimert chocked off the potential unpleasantness with a motion, reminiscent in its face-saving ingenuity of the diplomatic maneuver used to free the Pueblo crew. But whether the Faculty actually overturned the Ad Board or merely amended its recommendation with an innovation the board could not have proposed itself is beside the point, College administrators (like Grayson Kirk) forced to handle student discipline by themselves are in a hopeless bind because they do not have the authority to make their decisions stick. Here the Faculty has the final power to fix punishments and yesterday its members rightly decided by a two to one margin that the Administration formula was too barsh.
The Faculty also refused to adopt Dean Ford's motion, affirming for the time being, existing attendance rules. Meetings probably will not be thrown open immediately to the public, but it now seems likely that student observors will soon be allowed to listen to crucial Faculty debates. Yesterday's hour-and-a-half discussion suggests that many Faculty members are responding to a substantive issue raised by the Paine Hall demonstration and now being pressed by SFAC and are questioning the convention of closed meetings that has stood for years supported by little more than habit.