The CRR

Bram Tacks

THE COMMITTEE on Rights and Responsibilities was not always viewed as an agent of political repression. For the better part of a year after it was established in the Fall of 1969, the CRR served with student representatives, operated with the support of moderate students, and enforced what was considered an even-handed Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities that outlined the obligations of both students and the Administration. The CRR and the Resolution were initially heralded as a dike erected by liberal Faculty to hold back the flowing tide of Administrative reaction in the wake of the 1969 upheaval.

Student trust in the CRR rapidly evaporated after April 1970 following a series of moves by the Faculty which vitiated the substance of the Resolution. The student representatives resigned from the Committee, the student body several times refused to send new representatives, and the abolition of the CRR itself was added to the list of activist demands.

The CRR grew out of the Committee of 15, an ad hoc committee of students and Faculty established to hear about 150 cases against students charged with participating in the 1969 University Hall occupation. The Committee of 15 appointed nine of its members to the new CRR in the Fall of 1969. It was empowered to enforce the interim Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities passed by the Faculty at a June 9, 1969 meeting.

THE EVOLUTION of the CRR must be considered in the context of the Resolution it was designed to implement. The concept of the original Resolution was broad, directed at defining the rights and responsibilities of all members of the University community. It forcefully emphasized the importance of free speech, academic freedom, and freedom from personal force and violence.

But the Resolution also stressed the responsibility of the Administration to be responsive to student and Faculty demands for change, directing the Administration "to maintain an atmosphere in which violations of rights are unlikely to occur." The Resolution, although Indefinite, at least delineated a reciprocal set of relationships among students, Faculty, and Administrators.

The CRR was charged with administering the Resolution's sections on free speech, and students were promised that another body would be formed to register complaints about Administrative unresponsiveness. The CRR was backed by moderate students, several of whom sat on the Committee.

The wait-and-see attitude among moderate students was dramatically reversed at the March 1970 Faculty meeting which adopted a permanent Resolution. Conservative Faculty watered down the admittedly weak section on Administrative responsibility by passing an amendment saying, in effect, that two wrongs don't make a right.' The amendment, sponsored by Arthur Maass. Thomson Professor of Government, pompously explained that "no violation of the members of the University, nor any failure to meet responsibilities, should be interpreted as justifying any violations by members of the University."

The Maass amendment, and other alterations of language in the main body of the Resolution, effectively severed student actions from both their political context and the question of Administration responsibility. The Resolution had never been one of the great charter documents of Western democracy, but it at least initially appeared to be an even-handed directive to all segments of the University community. Following these revisions, the Resolution served exclusively as a blueprint for disciplining unruly students without caring a whit for the political reasons that had prompted their unrest.

MODERATE STUDENT reaction to the Faculty's move set in immediately. The three student members of the interim CRR resigned from the Committee and a nonbinding referendum in seven Houses rejected the revised Resolution by a three to one margin. With the continued absence of a body to investigate Administrative unresponsiveness, the radical slogan, "Your rights, our responsibilities," became a reality.

The CRR had never been unduly constrained by the Resolution, but now it was free from even the slightest outside influence. Operating with conservative Faculty members and no students, the Committee was free to interpret and enforce a resolution of which Alexander Gerschenkron. Barker Professor of Economics said: "Every word is a rubber band that can be expanded and contracted at will," Over the next two years, the CRR defined more and more actions as punishable violations of the Resolution.

In December 1969, for example, four students were charged with personally harassing Ernest R. May, then dean of the College. The CRR in February 1970 dismissed the charges, explaining that the Resolution did not explicitly prohibit such harrassment. The watershed March 1970 Faculty meeting then passed a vaguely worded amendment to the Resolution barring "intense personal harassment," and the CRR had its carte blanche. Interpreting the amendment arbitrarily, the Committee has since kicked several students out of school on the charge.

In another incident, the Committee in a few minutes time decided what its relations with the press would be. CRR ground rules call for closed hearings, but the accused is permitted to be accompanied by an adviser. Crimson reporter David Hollander sought to attend a January 1970 hearing as an adviser and report on the proceedings. At first James Q. Wilson, CRR chairman, prohibited the move, but then the Committee huddled in one corner of the hearing room and reversed Wilson's initial ruling. Thus, in a few minutes and on its own accord, the CRR set an important precedent to which it still adheres.

THE CRR's activity peaked following the Cambodian invasion and the accompanying student strike of May 1970. About 60 people were disciplined on a new charge--being part of a group that staged a disruptive picket line around University Hall. Gerschenkron's rubber band had expanded still farther--no longer was it necessary to demonstrate that a person charged had himself violated the Resolution. Now the Administration merely had to place the defendant in a group that was engaged in some form of disruption. Each individual was held responsible for the acts of all, and more students took involuntary vacations from Harvard at the CRR's whim.

In the Spring of 1971, the CRR stretched the rubber band just short of breaking. A graduate student in Physics was charged with plotting to disrupt a lecture by Edwin Land of the Polaroid Corporation, even though the disruption was never staged. The Committee found in the student's favor, but did not close the door on future convictions for conspiracy.

Student sentiment during this period continually turned against the CRR. In University-wide referenda, students twice declined to send representatives to the Committee, even though one of the votes, in the words of then CRR chairman, Donald G. Anderson, was "guaranteed to produce students."

A Commission of Inquiry to investigate Administrative unresponsiveness was belatedly set up in the Fall of 1970, after its notorious cousin had been functioning for one year. The Commission failed to placate students; it innocuously investigates institutions like Harvard Student Agencies and has only advisory powers.

AFTER TWO, YEARS of having students heap abuse on the CRR, the Faculty this Fall has finally come to realize that the Committee is in need of reform. But the proposals advanced by a group of well-meaning liberal Faculty do not strike at the root of the problem--the Resolution on Rights and Responsibility. The promise of 1969 must be redeemed. An even-handed Resolution must be drafted by students and Faculty that delineates the duties and obligations of all members of the community. A representative body to consider allegations of Administrative unresponsiveness must be established on an equal footing with a fair mechanism for disciplining students. Only in this way can the Faculty substantively back up its professed commitment to the maintenance of a free and open community of scholars with reciprocal rights and responsibilities.