Faculty Had to Fight to Discuss Defense-Tied Cambridge Project
Only the protests of a few Faculty members stopped Harvard-at least for now-from joining the highly controversial. Defense Department-funded Cambridge Project without the Faculty's ever having discussed it.
A Faculty subcommittee chaired by Harvey Brooks, dean of Engineering and Applied Physics, voted, 5-3, in favor of Harvard's allying itself institutionally with the Project, which uses computers at Harvard and M.I.T. for social and behavioral science research. The same recommendation was approved. 11-8, by the Committee on Research Policy.
But, on an issue of unusual significance which had barely squeaked through two appointed committees, President Pusey did not even ask the Faculty for its opinion. Brooks sprung the decision on the Faculty for the first time at a meeting last Tuesday, telling them he was speaking "for the information of the Faculty, not for action."
Liberal Faculty members at the meeting spoke out against this slighting. After President Pusey saw that he could not prevent the Faculty from speaking out, he agreed not to appoint Harvard representatives to the Cambridge Project policy board until the Faculty has debated the matter. The Faculty will discuss the Project at its January 6 meeting.
"By some kind of miracle we stopped the railroad." Mark Ptashne, lecturer on Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, said after the meeting.
Individuals Are In
The Faculty cannot and does not want to prevent individual Harvard professors and graduate students from accepting Cambridge Project funds. Harvard traditionally allows its scholars to accept any outside research funding they can get, provided certain conditions-such as no classified research-are met. The Cambridge Project meets those conditions.
The central issue of Harvard debate on the Project, then, is whether, the University should join M.I.T. as an institutional sponsor. Conservatives tend to minimize the significance of co-spon-soring the Project; the majority of the Brooks subcommittee justified Harvard participation with the following argument: since Harvard people will be involved in the Project anyway, it said, "Harvard as an institution . . . must accept responsibility for the direction and balance of the work by sharing control of the enterprise with M.I.T."
But the question just isn't that simple. If Harvard agrees to join the Cambridge Project as an institution, it will be lending its considerable prestige to a project about which a number of legal and ethical questions have been raised.
The crucial legal issue involves Section 203 of the recently enacted Military Procurement Bill. That section forbids the Defense Department, beginning next fiscal year, to fund any research not having "a direct and apparent relationship to a specific military function." Thus, future Defense funding of the Cambridge Project-which involves basic rather than applied research-would seem to be illegal.
The Defense Department may very well try to thwart the intent of this law-i.e., limiting the military's influence in American society-by claiming that even basic research is directly related to "a specific military function." John Womack Jr. 59, assistant professor of History and a member of the anti-Project minority on the Brooks subcommittee, said Wednesday that Harvard involvement in the Project "may amount to collusion" with the Defense Department in circumventing Section 203.
Why Spend Billions?
There are other reasons for Harvard to be extremely wary of joining the Cambridge Project It is highly unlikelythat the Defense Department would spend $7.7 billion on a project which it didn't think would benefit it in some way. Although the Cambridge Project does involve methodological rather than applied research, the methodologies it develops could prove quite useful later in Defense Department strategy-making. And the present role of the Defense Department in the world is far from a benevolent one.
In addition, it would seem difficult for any university to accept huge sums from political agencies and at the same time be independent and critical of them. According to Everett I. Mendelsohn. associate professor of the History of Science. "the Defense Department is very anxious to try to pacify university opposition by putting its money there; people are much less willing to goad an agency which is supporting them."
A half-share of $7.7 million in Defense Department money for computer research, some say. would alter significantly the entire nature of the social sciences at Harvard. Dean Ford said in September that joining the Project "would involve a considerable shift in emphasis in one or several parts of the Faculty ... this is not unlike setting up a new department."
The Brooks subcommittee may have been correct in its statement "that the development of computer-based techniques and substantive research [is important for the future of the social sciences at Harvard." But. in light of the many serious issues raised by the Cambridge Project. the way the University handled the matter seems incredibly shortsighted.
Pusey and Ford agreed in September that the Committee on Research Policy-not the Faculty would represent Faculty opinion on the Cambridge Project to the Corporation. That Committee appointed the eight-man Brooks subcommittee to investigate the Project and report back its findings.
Several subcommittee members seem to have had a definite stake in opting for the Project Chairman Brooks is dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics. which receives over 60 per cent of its research money from the Defense Department. Members of both the Psychology Department and the Center for the Behavioral Sciences-headed by subcommittee members Richard J. Herrnstein and Edward L. Pattntlo. respectively-are applying to the Cambridge Project for funding.
A divided Brooks subcommittee presented to the Committee on Research Policy in late November a majority and a minority recommendation, both of which were kept secret. The majority recommendation favored joining the Cambridge Project.
The Committee adopted the majority recommendation last Monday by a margin of three votes. That decision, too, was kept secret, and the Faculty did not learn of it until the next day. And even then it was asked to sit and listen-not to act.