Marx's prediction to the contrary, the American state remains intact as ever, but one of its minor irritants has begun to wither away. Harvard's rule placing a two-year limit on Faculty leaves of absence has been stretched beyond recognition for the benefit of Henry A. Kissinger, President Nixon's advisor for national security affairs.
In January 1969, Kissinger-who was then professor of Government and associate director of the Center for International Affairs-departed Cambridge to assume the new Administration's top foreign policy post. Last January, two years later, he tendered his formal resignation from Harvard after deciding to remain in the White House.
His resignation, however, was an empty one. The month before, in a series of closed meetings, the senior members of the Government department approved a series of measures designed to insure Kissinger's return to the Harvard Faculty:
an expression of hope that he would return;
a recommendation that he be reappointed if he should apply at any time before November 1972; and
a decision to delay for at least another year their search for a man to replace Kissinger as the department's tenured specialist in the national security field.
The effect of this vote on the leave-of-absence rule appeared to be precedent-setting. Shortly after the vote, Samuel P. Huntington, chairman of the department, said, "I don't know of any case in recent years in which this sequence has been followed."
The reasoning behind the move, however, is far from clear. According to an official department statement, Kissinger's chair was held because he was thought to be the foremost authority in the national security field. But sources in the department said recently that Kissinger's academic superiority in the field was not beyond question, and that senior Faculty had merely not been able to agree on another man for the job.
Certainly one of the real reasons for the vote is that Kissinger-with his first-hand knowledge of how Nixon Administration decisions have been made-would be a valuable intellectual asset to the department. In a recent conversation, Huntington implied this reasoning by saying the department felt that "if he came back in a reasonable period, he'd be better than when he left."
In fact, the department was being kinder to Kissinger than to another Faculty member who did resign his post in the national administration to retain his Harvard tenure. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the President's flamboyant advisor on urban affairs, returned to the University this term, reportedly expecting, among other things, to be given a Government department appointment when he arrived. But it was not until Moynihan had an offer from Cornell to wave in the department's face that he was given the privilege of teaching in it.
It also appears that the vote on Kissinger was occasioned by an intricate and, at times, vicious gossip game which has long been a part of the Cambridge-Washington circuit. Since last May-when a dozen senior Faculty members visited the White House for an on-the-record conversation with Kissinger in which they denounced the President's decision to invade Cambodia-one of the most publicly effective objections to national policy has been the opposition of Kissinger's most eminent colleagues. But within government and Washington society, one of Kissinger's most potent weapons is a widespread impression that Harvard really doesn't want him back, that academia is discriminating against him because of his policy, that Harvard's faculty is as totalitarian as the enemy.
At the time of Cambodia, Kissinger refused to correct publicly the false rumor that the visiting Faculty members implied to him that he would never again teach at Harvard if he did not move to reverse the President's policy. A number of observers, in fact, have suggested that Kissinger-a highly insecure man-may in a moment of rashness have started that rumor himself. And last Fall, numerous complaints by Kissinger that he was not even being invited back to Cambridge to give a speech are reported to have spurred the Institute of Politics to host him for an informal briefing on China and Vietnam which took place last January.
At the same time, Kissinger applied pressure to his friends in the department to make some accommodation for him. He got the news shortly after the decision in December. The CRIMSON broke the story of the department's vote five days before Kissinger's tenure was scheduled to lapse, and his formal resignation came the following day. Queried about the CRIMSON report, he played coy and said, "This is a matter for the Govern-ment department and I would not know. I just resigned."
Nonetheless, the vote meant a great deal more to him than he was publicly willing to admit. Most of his professional life had been spent in Cambridge, and most of his closest colleagues were still here. One senior Faculty member-who consults frequently with Kissinger-said recently that Kissinger remains intent on returning here after leaving office. "I think he's very much concerned with place," the Faculty member said.
And in fact, should national policy become a prominent election issue in 1972, Kissinger may find it wise to bail out of the Administration. He has always valued his quiet anonymity as Nixon's confidante, and an election campaign could pull him out of that shell by posing some nasty questions about who made the crucial decisions. And Kissinger has had a major say on every single one.
For their own part, Harvard administrators seem determined to ignore the implications of the Government department's vote for the Faculty leave-of-absence rule, maintaining that Kissinger has formally ended his connection with the University. None-theless, Kissinger has been guaranteed an escape valve until the time of the next President's election in November 1972.