Harvard, supposedly

Michael Brown-Beasley doesn't hesitate to admit that he's eccentric, that he's hard to get along with at times and that he shouts at people. But he adds, with a slight English accent and characteristically emphatic gesticulation, that "it's not a crime to be hard to get along with, it's not a crime to have a shrill voice, it's not a crime to get up on tables and shout."

In Brown-Beasley's eyes, he has a moral obligation to contest decisions that he believes are wasting Harvard's money, pushing the costs of education here higher. And Harvard--the school with the motto "Veritas"--should be especially receptive to open criticism, he believes. In a letter last month to Peter S. McKinney, acting dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Brown-Beasley wrote: "Since there are no 'final solutions,' constant criticism from within is our only hope for progress. Those who 'cannot absorb constant criticism' might well be reminded of the admonition attributed to President 'Give 'Em Hell, Harry' Truman: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' The Harvard administration is not a dumping ground for third-raters...Dearest friend, this is supposed to be Harvard."

Hale Champion, vice president for administration, sees the issue of Brown-Beasley's working relationships far differently. For the best systems development, Champion says, there must be a cooperative effort between the various people involved. Not only does Brown-Beasley not fit into the cooperative method, Champion says, but he believes that "what is optimum in any given situation is his idea and that no one else's position is important unless they agree with him."

The letters that Brown-Beasley has written--and liberally distributed--in his attempt to be rehired suggest the passion of his feelings and his unwillingness to squeeze his criticism into polite legalese. To Gibson he wrote: "Although you hold a graduate degree in theology...you are not, and I must repeat are not, a 'religious' man in any sense meaningful to the overwhelming majority of the duties incumbent upon you as director of the Office of Fiscal Services. As Ortega put it so succinctly in his essay on Concord and Liberty, the word 'religio' does not derive from religare, to bind--that is, man to God. The adjective, as is often the case, has preserved the original meaning of the noun, and religious stands for scrupulous, not trifling, Conscientious. The opposite of religion thus would be negligence, carelessness, indifference, laxity."

Brown-Beasley, who spent two and one half years in Germany and whose father died at age 40 from the effects of wartime imprisonment in a German concentration camp, warns frequently of the hazards of modern-day Naziism--of toeing the corporate line in silence. He is also willing to equate his situation to that of other historical figures. In his letter requesting a formal hearing, Brown-Beasley wrote: "Your 'investigation,' gentlemen, was not a search for truth at all, but rather a shameless 'cover-up.' It will go down in the annals of illegality together with the 'investigations' associated with the irregular court-martial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in France, and the (mis-) trials of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in Massachusetts, against the injustice of which latter infamy Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, among others, felt compelled to speak out while professor of Administrative Law here at Harvard. And, gentlemen, in my case also, 'the truth will out.' I believe in this place."