How Hot Do We Want It?

POLITICS

AT HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE, 20 students occupied the school's administrative offices earlier this month, demanding that Hampshire sell its nearly $40,000 of stockholdings in U.S. corporations that maintain operations in South Africa. The occupation came in the wake of the administration's persistant refusal to sell the stock, despite the fact that in March, more than half of the student body signed a petition urging divestiture of the stocks.

Throughout the spring, Stanford University students have actively opposed the administration's policies on South African investment. Last week, 300 Stanford students were arrested during demonstrations protesting the university's refusal to support an anti-apartheid stockholders' resolution at the Ford Motor Company's annual meeting. In recent months, students have mounted protests similar to the Hampshire and Stanford demonstrations at campuses throughout the country, including at the University of Connecticut, Berkeley, and the University of Illinois.

Meanwhile, in the past six months, only a handful of Harvard students have publicly protested the University's financial complicity in the maintenance of the repressive Vorster regime with its internationally condemned apartheid system.

In what was the largest protest action by Harvard undergraduates in six months, nearly 160 Dunster and Mather House students assembled out on Cowperthwaite Street last Friday and marched to Leverett House dining hall to demonstrate in support of their demands that Dean Fox scrap his breakfast plan or at least that either Dunster or Mather serve hot breakfast next year under the new breakfast plan.

The 160 clearly got into the spirit of the thing: as they downed their scrambled eggs and muffins, the demonstrators chanted "We want it hot" and pounded their knives and forks on the tables. After breakfast, the group marched to University Hall, where its representatives entered the building in a vain attempt to confront Dean Fox with their demands.

Although the issue of investment in South Africa is a social and ethical one, independent of the size of the investment, it is clear that Harvard's level of investment in companies doing business in South Africa makes that of most other universities seem paltry. While Hampshire College owned $40,000 worth of stock in corporations with South Africa investments, Harvard owns more than $100 million.

Whether or not all U.S. investments in South Africa should be withdrawn may be a debatable question. A few American corporations have aggressively challenged apartheid regulations, and perhaps a case can be made that they constitute a progressive force in South Africa.

While Rhodesia's Ian Smith, South Africa's Vorster and South African Bantustan Chief Gatcha Buthelezi insist that American investments provide jobs for South African blacks, the trade union groups and leaders of South Africa's black liberation movements contend that American dollars only serve to shore up the apartheid regime.

In general, heavy U.S. investment in South Africa--currently at $2.5 billion--does contribute to the economic strength of the Vorster regime, and makes it more likely that the U.S. will continue to use business rather than human interest as the major guidepost for our foreign policy in southern Africa.

While it can be argued that some aspects of American involvement may seem less morally abhorrent than other, many of the actions taken by the Harvard Corporation at shareholders' meetings this spring are less ambiguous. Harvard would do no more than abstain on a shareholder resolution that would have forced Manufacturers' Hanover Trust to stop making loans to the South African government. We're not even talking about loans to corporations in South Africa--we're talking about loans to the Vorster government itself. In another instance, the University would not vote to force the General Electric Corporation--a company that even Harvard's investment research center described as one of the more socially retrograde U.S. corporations in South Africa--to withdraw its operations from the country. Treasurer George Putnam explained the Harvard Corporation members' vote by saying they believe General Electric to be a "responsible" corporation in South Africa.

SO WHAT'S WRONG with Harvard students? Why do we sit by idly and watch the Harvard Corporation support apartheid and protest half tongue-in-cheek for our hot scrambled eggs, while other undergraduates around the country, presumably just as occupied with their work and play as we are, risk arrest or expulsion to protest institutional investment in oppression?

A number of reasons for our inactivity sugges themselves. Perhaps we simply are uninformed as to the nature of the South African regime and Harvard's investment in the country. Clearly this is not that case. We at Harvard read the national papers, so we should have some feel for the gravity of the wrongs being committed in South Africa.

Perhaps we are aware of what is happening, but are just too self-centered to be outraged by oppression going on half-way around the world, even though the loyal Corporation we give our money to financially supports that oppression. This is an explanation which I just don't want to believe could be true.

Maybe we are outraged by Harvard's actions, but we're afraid of what the disciplinary consequences of protest might be. The job market is tight, and many may not want to play games with their futures even if it means not taking a stand on a moral issue we consider important. This reason is probably at least partially correct. But at the same time, it seems clear that Harvard never would have 300 students arrested as Stanford did--the University learned too many bitter lessons in 1969 to do something like that.

So why our inactivity?

Most likely, we are outraged by apartheid and by Harvard's investment policies which effectively support it, but we simply feel impotent in the face of Harvard, the immovable institution. Harvard is certainly not Hampshire College, where the school's administrators seem to admit they are accountable to the students at the college. Perhaps Harvard Corporation members do believe the age, wealth and prestige of the University do give it the right, or at least the raw power, to completely ignore the moral indignation of the students who, after all, are the essential reasons for the University's existence. Quite sadly, the Harvard Corporation members may well believe this, and they may be right. But one can never be sure that Harvard is this powerful, and that our sense of impotence--our Harvard politics of despair--is justified? We can only find out by daring to try, daring to test Harvard's stubborn and misplaced resolve.