The Pusey Years: Through Change and Storm
The university which Nathan M. Pusey '28 will turn over to his successor next June is as different from the one he inherited in 1953 as today's students are from the undergraduates of the McCarthy era. Derek C. Book, who will become Harvard's 25th president on Commencement day, will have to run a university with twice as many officers, half again as many students, and three times as much money as the one Pusey found when he returned to Cambridge from Appleton, Wisconsin.
Pusey's tenure will soon be a matter for the historians of Harvard to evaluate. Doubtless, he will rate a chapter in the sequel to Morison's Three Centuries of Harvard, whenever that is written. Already, he is starting to be memorialized-the Harvard News Office has issued a comprehensive outline of the Pusey presidency. The Pusey Years at Harvard, in handy pamphlet form for reference use by journalists and alumni.
The first dean whom Nathan Pusey appointed as President of Harvard announced his retirement a few weeks ago, and all of his colleagues seemed to apply the same word to him. "He was a builder", one professor said. The word builder would work equally well if applied to Pusey or any of the men he raised to high positions in the University. The physical dimensions of Harvard, both college and graduate schools, have increased phenomenally in every direction during his eighteen years in office.
The statistics of the Pusey era show what is probably the most impressive growth of any college in the period. Harvard's annual budget increased from $39 million to $188 million, the numbered of endowed chairs more than doubled, to 277, and the Federal share of the budget grew from one-tenth to one-third. Pusey rebuilt the Divinity School, recruiting men like Paul Tillich and Krister Stendhal, and provided new housing for the Education and Design schools. Under his leadership, Harvard went into the air for the first time, with high-rise buildings like Leverett, Mather, and William James. Monuments to Pusey's ability as a builder will remain all over Cambridge long after the current generation of undergraduates has become a memory.
For all this, Pusey's departure will not be without bitter feelings. For a man who defended the right of the University, any university, to exist free from outside control, he has made many enemies among academic liberals. The image of the bold young college president standing up to the forces of intolerance has been replaced, in the eyes of many, by an image of a tight-lipped, uncommunicative old man, alienated from younger faculty and students, with a mid-Victorian conception of the role of the academic community. Probably neither image is true: Pusey, after all, is only human. But it is interesting to trace the metamorphosis, to look back into the origins of Pusey's increasing alienation from all but a few close friends in Massachusetts Hall.
Senior Yearbooks from the early days of the Pusey era frequently contain pictures of the new president, his hair not yet grey, and often wearing a casual looking sweater under his tweed jacket, sipping sherry with undergraduates. In those days, he was still the hero of American academics, the man who had fought the right wing demon and defeated him. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences commended him in an unusual resolution, and he was featured on an Omnibus program. His door was still open to the press, which heaped him with praise.
By 1960, this was all at an end, and Pusey began building his reputation for aloofness. Unlike most cases, it was not a gradual slipping away from popularity to indifference to opprobrium; the death of Pusey the White Knight, and the birth of Pusey the ogre, can be traced to one occurrence-the Memorial Church crisis.
Prospective freshman at Harvard are issued a booklet describing the wonders of the place, and containing a brief paragraph from a statement of the Corporation to the effect that Harvard is interdenominational, and recognizes the right of members of all faiths to worship freely in Memorial Church. Most of them never get to Harvard, and few of those who do remember this little statement, or realize its significance. For it marked the beginning of the end of Nathan Pusey as a president with a constituency.
The Memorial Church Crisis was a simple affair, really. IN 1957, a Jewish couple requested permission to be married, by a rabbi, in the University's interdenominational Church. The request was denied, and Pusey explained the denial by proposing the thesis that Harvard was not, strictly speaking, interdenominational, but interdenominational-Christian. Under immense pressure from every quarter, the Corporation was compelled to retract the stand, and open the Church to all comers.
The reaction of Jewish faculty, students, and alumni at Harvard was, of course, one of utter horror. But he had not only alienated the Jewish community. Paradoxically, his actions in the Memorial Church Crisis caused a permanent rift between him and exactly the one constituency he needed to establish a viable control over the university-the old WASP families which hold the balance of power in the university.
Pusey had never been a popular choice among the Beacon Hill-Upper East Side-Main Line members of the Harvard establishment. A scholarship student from a Midwestern high school, he was hardly in their tradition. But the State Street bankers, and their St. Grottlesex classmates who dominated the Faculty, were willing to withhold judgement. For a time, things seemed to be working out, and the angry murmurs in the lounges of the Somerset and Union clubs died down somewhat. But to the traditional Brahmin, religion has always been more lip service than piety, and the idea that a Harvard President should be fanatical enough about his almost evangelical creed to stake the good name of the University on its preservation was abhorrent. When Pusey made the Christian purity of the Church a cause celebre, instead of acceding gracefully, in what Santayana would call the genteel tradition, he signed his death warrant as an effective president. Cries for his resignation were raised privately by many influential alumni.
Pusey was shocked, and must have felt betrayed, when a group of influential Faculty members, whom he had counted as friends, publicly opposed him on the issue. He was embarrassed, and forced to back down, when one set of senior faculty publicly petitioned him to open the Church.
In the last decade of his Presidency, Pusey built more buildings and raised more money than he had before, but there was a subtle difference. A quiet vote of confidence had been taken, and he had been defeated. Beacon Hill was no longer on his side. He reacted with suspicion to every move made by the Dean of the Faculty, McGeorge Bundy (whose family tree abounds in Lowells, Putnams, and other Beacon Hill familiars.), and acted as Dean himself for a year after Bundy's resignation, attempting to reassert his control. It is no accident that no Harvard graduate, indeed, no Easterner, has acted as Dean since Bundy left. Today, no major dean in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a Harvard graduate, and not one dean of any graduate faculty attended Harvard College. Pusey has imported men from outside the college to assure their loyalty to him. With few exceptions, they have been, like Pusey, men who have worked their way from small beginnings, not to the manor born.
The conflict between the Brahmins-the Overseers, AHA officials, even Corporation members and senior Faculty, and the Pusey party, has been one of those subtle unseen power struggles which determine the fate of institutions. The crisis of confidence which students and younger faculty felt after Pusey called in the police in April, 1969, is nothing compared to the quite private crisis he suffered more than a dozen years ago. If Pusey has been aloof, almost unseen, throughout these years, it is only because he had to be careful of every step, every move, to make sure that he never compromised himself again, never left himself open for the withering criticism which he once received, never antagonized people enough to demand his resignation publicly this time. His first exposure to the wrath of the people he thought were in his camp had shocked him to a degree even he could not understand.
When Derek Curtis Bok, product of Northeast, boarding school, and publishing fortune, takes over the University, he will start with the resignations of every dean and administrative officer of any importance in his hand. The men he keeps, and the men he lets go, the new men he finds, will shape his administration for years to come. Bok may be closer to the world of men's clubs and board rooms which Pusey, with his Iowa naivete, never quite understood. If Bok is more popular than Pusey, it may not be because he is any more liberal, but simply because he knows his true constituency better, because he will not embarrass them with obstinacy on minor issues, and because he will have their support, and not, like Claudius, have to skulk about his own domain in fear of some treacherous Hamlet in his own camp.