The Departments Visiting Committee On Economics
THE demonstration against the Visiting Committee on Economics last Wednesday was an unusual one for Harvard. The protestors had no immediate demands, like "Smash ROTC," or "Promote the helpers." Their purpose, instead, was to point out that the members of the Committee are uniformly prosperous and generally satisfied with the present economic system. This they say, lets the members fit in happily with the way Harvard is, unhappily, run. Such limited representation, however, ignores the attitudes and needs of the larger community the University should be serving.
The Visiting Committee on Economics is one of 43 Visiting Committees of the Board of Overseers. Its stated tunetion is somewhat vague, but it has a broad mandate to evaluate the Economics Department and make recommendations about any aspect of it: courses, faculty, budget.
The question about this mandate is not whether outsiders should be given the task of this evaluation, but which outsiders. At present, the men on the Committee (and they are all men) are bankers, corporation executives, partners in investment firms. Not surprisingly, some of these men are connected with war industries. One of the members is James H. Binger, chairman of the board of Honeywell, Inc.; Honeywell makes fragmentation bombs used in Vietnam.
The Harvard Union for Radical Political Economics, which sponsored the demonstration, suggested an alternative visiting committee, made up of black people, welf are recipients, workers, third world people, and radicals. Clearly, as the organizers of the demonstration realized, it would he a meaningless gesture to replace the official Visiting Committee with this one, unless there were wider changes in the University. For the Visiting Committee is not an aberration, a group at odds with the rest of Harvard's organization. Rather as the Union asserts, its members fit in well with a University which is non or anti-radical in its approach to social problems.
OTTO ECKSTEIN. Chairman of the Economics Department Committee on Undergraduate Education, justifies the make-up of the Visiting Committee as follows: "There has to be some recognition of the claims of people not on the Faculty to participate in the University and the department. This includes the alumni, who have put up the dough and have sent their kids here."
According to the rules governing the Visiting Committees, their members-chosen by the chairman, usually an Overseer-need not be alumni; and some are not. But Eekstein, discussing the wealth of the members of the Economics Visiting Committee, said. "Proletarians do not loom large among Harvard alumni: and an organization will naturally choose its most successful alumni for such a group."
The Union does not claim that the Visiting Committee interferes with the workings of the department. Rather, it maintains, the members of the Committee are too satisfied to interfere. If the department and the University were serving the people it should, the Visiting Committee would have to be different.
In fact, the direct influence of the Committee on the department seems to have been rather limited. Aside from what Eckstein calls "political sniping" at the department in the '50's, the Committee's chief effort appears to be to press for emphasis on undergraduate programs. It seems safe to say that the Committee does not control directly the workings of the department.
But the fact that the members of the Visiting Committee have been "successful" (in the sense of making money and gaining high position) gives them an attitude toward the present economic system and the way economics is presently taught which is likely to be very different from the attitude of a mother trying to live on welfare payments or a black man without a job. This is another point of view, one that is not voiced to the economics department by the present Visiting Committee.