It would be unfortunate if the firing of Richard Alpert led to the suppression of legitimate research into the effects of hallucinogenic compounds. Such drugs as mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD may be of real value in scientific studies of the mind and in the treatment of mental disorders. But it would have been equally unfortunate if Dr. Alpert had been allowed to continue his activities under the aegis of a University that he has misinformed about his purposes.
His claim to be a disinterested scientific researcher is itself debatable; from the very first, he and his associate, Timothy F. Leary, have been as much propagandists for the drug experience as investigators of it. They are so convinced of the benefits of these drugs that they have dispensed with many normal research procedures; for example, they have conducted some of their experiments in highly informal settings. They have been lax about screening potential recipients of the drugs; indeed, they have urged many who have expressed a casual interest in the drugs to try them for themselves. Far from exercising the caution that characterizes the public statements of most scientists, Leary and Alpert, in their papers and speeches, have been given to making the kind of pronouncement about their work that one associates with quacks.
The shoddiness of their work as scientists is the result less of incompetence than of a conscious rejection of scientific ways of looking at things. Leary and Alpert fancy themselves prophets of a psychic revolution designed to free Western man from the limitations of consciousness as we know it. They are contemptuous of all organized systems of action--of what they call the "roles" and "games" of society. They prefer mystical ecstasy to the fulfillment available through work, politics, religion, and creative art, yet like true revolutionaries they will play these games to further their own ends. And even more like revolutionaries, they have not hesitated to break the rules of these games when it has suited their ends. They have not been professors at Harvard--they have been playing "the professor game," and their cynicism has led them to disregard University regulations and standards of good faith. They have violated the one condition Harvard placed upon their work; that they not use undergraduates as subjects for drug experiments.
In general, they have feigned adherence to "the science game" only to give a veneer of respectability to practices antipathetic to the ethics of a university. These practices are not random lapses; they stem from a philosophy that denies the intellectual and moral premises on which a university is based. Universities are built on traditions of open-mindedness, intellectual discipline, and precision of thought and expression. Leary and Alpert show no devotion to these things.
In tacit recognition of the incompatibility of their work with a university environment, they have established a private organization--the International Foundation for Internal Freedom. Leary has already left the University to devote his full energies to this group, and Alpert had also planned to spend much of his time with the Foundation during his year at the School of Education.
Dr. Alpert's dismissal should not be construed as an abridgment of academic freedom. The University has supported his researches and has been more than reasonable in the precautions it has asked him to take. In dismissing him, it reacted to wilful repudiation of these safeguards. But surely the University has not taken this exceptional step in response to mere misdemeanors. In firing Richard Alpert, Harvard has dissociated itself not only from flagrant dishonesty but also from behavior that is spreading infection throughout the academic community. May 28, 1963
The Corporation has terminated the appointment of Richard Alpert as assistant professor of Clinical Psychology and of Education for violating a University agreement by giving consciousness-expanding drugs to an undergraduate, President Pusey told the Crimson yesterday.
Pusey also said that Timothy F. Leary, Lecturer on Clinical Psychology, was relieved of his teaching duties and had his salary terminated on April 30 for leaving Cambridge and his classes without permission.
In his statement to the Crimson, Pusey said Alpert had violated an agreement with the University not to give consciousness-expanding drugs such as psilocybin and mescaline to undergraduates. The statement also implied that Alpert had lied to an officer of the University last November when he "assured" the Administration that "he had not given drugs to any undergraduate."
Alpert's appointment as assistant professor of Clinical Psychology was to have expired June 30, but he also held an appointment through next year at the School of Education. The Corporation's action terminated both of these appointments effective immediately.
Leary, who has been closely associated with Alpert in psilocybin studies, left Harvard for California and Mexico some weeks ago. Pusey said Leary had given the University no formal notification of his departure.
In a statement issued late last night Alpert failed to comment on the Corporation's actions or its reasons. He said that since he was "no longer affiliated with Harvard" he and Leary "plan to devote our total efforts to IFIF." The statement indicated Alpert planned to give the drugs to "any serious individual" who desired to "expand his consciousness."
Writing to the President and the Corporation last week, Alpert said Harvard has been a "fearless leader in providing a climate of encouragement and support for historically significant exploration and discovery." He claimed his work with "psychedelic substances" is "just such exploration."
Brendan A. Maher, research associate in the Laboratory of Social Relations, said last night that provisions had been made for grading the final examination in Richard Alpert's course, Psychology 143. The examination was given last Friday.