Continuing Revolution: A Critical View of the CRR Reforms

The political animal at Harvard is an endangered species--traditionally corralled by the Faculty and hunted down by the administration. Yet he may find that in 1978 his worst enemy is a sleepy student body. For unless we are smart and decisive, the "new, improved" Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR) could become the instrument of his extinction.

On the other hand, a truly democratized CRR could promote, rather than threaten, reasoned political activity at Harvard. Unfortunately, democracy and open politics seem likely to come out the losers here: vigorous, broad-based, public discussion of this issue has not occurred, and the ultimate decisions will apparently be made by traditional bodies which are inappropriate to deal with such a fundamental question.

The marriage of popular disinterest with centralized decision-making usually leads to a miscarriage of justice. Indeed, the current CRR reform proposals are deeply flawed and pose a great threat.

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Harvard is almost barren of active campus politics today; only the brutal racism in southern Africa has rippled our calm academic waters and threatened our smug ivory tower. It is hard for us to appreciate the explosive, polarized atmosphere that existed here less than ten years ago; hard, therefore, for us to understand the forces that gave rise to the CRR.

On April 9, 1969, a determined group of over 200 Harvard students seized University Hall. They demanded an end to Harvard's ROTC program--which they claimed directly implicated the University in an immoral war--and an end to uncontrolled University expansion, which uprooted poor Cambridge and Boston residents from their neighborhoods. Later they began to push for the establishment of an Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard, claiming that widespread racism had slowed its appearance. The vast majority of Harvard students supported these demands, if not the group's militant tactics. Several days later, 10,000 students massed in Soldiers Field and voted a general strike to support the demands. For the following days, most students boycotted their classes. Most Harvard students seemed to have been convinced by recent events that strong methods of protest were necessary to make a stubborn Corporation and a preoocupied Faculty listen.

Without consulting student leaders or even the Faculty, then President Nathan M. Pusey '28 and his deans ordered squads of municipal police and hundreds of state troopers into Harvard Yard. When dawn broke on April 10, the police cleared the building of the demonstrating students with their clubs. Blood spilled onto the steps of University Hall while an incredulous Harvard crowd looked on.

Five days later, the Faculty, now mistrustful of an irresponsible and indeed brutal administration, took an important power into its own hands: it formed the Committee of 15 to discipline those involved in the "liberation" of University Hall and other radical activities. With an angry University on strike, it is not surprising that only five students were included in the committee.

In April, 1970, the Faculty overwhelmingly passed a "Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities." In January, 1971, the Committee of 15 dissolved and the CRR was born.

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The undemocratic nature of the CRR soon compelled a student boycott--the freshman class, the Houses and the GSAS all refused to elect representatives to the body, citing their unwillingness to participate in what one student group called the "medieval atmosphere and procedures of the hearings conducted by the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities." Students criticized the faculty majority, the secrecy of the hearings, and the whole dirty chore of censuring and punishing political activity. A Crimson editorial from the winter of 1970 observed, "In a polarized community such as this one, a committee such as the CRR can only dole out punishment that is inherently political in content--punishment against those who are diametrically opposed to the order in power that the CRR represents."

The boycott continued until last year, when the Class of 1980 voted to send representatives to the body who promised to work for internal reform. The current reform proposals, now under discussion in the Faculty Council, are the fruit of their boycott-breaking. These proposals include increasing the proportion of student members of the CRR and establishing a small appeals board (both with a Faculty majority); the banning of hearsay evidence; a prohibition on participation by lawyers at CRR hearings (the famed constitutional lawyer Archibald Cox represented the University at the original proceedings); and a policy that would make minutes of CRR hearings public at the conclusion of a case only if all parties agree or if the CRR deems such action appropriate.

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To understand the problems with these "reforms," we must understand the character of politics at Harvard.

In every community, there are times of war and times of peace, times when the community is deeply polarized and times when people basically agree. In 1969, war raged at Harvard; today we have peace.

But things run in cycles, and soon war will visit us here again; southern Africa has compelled just a skirmish. War will come because the old roles don't change; the University cares only for learning. Harvard grudgingly permits political activity only so long as there is no interference with the educational process. But let one class be delayed, one dean distracted, one tax exemption threatened. Then the heavens fall, and the Faculty huddles: learning has been attacked!

Could there be a cause more important than Learning, a goal more pressing than the military discipline of a smoothly running college? The Faculty answered this question with a resounding "No!" The Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities states, "The central functions of an academic community are learning, teaching, research and scholarship...interference with members of the University in performance of their duties and activities must be regarded as unacceptable obstruction of the essential processes of the University."

Chem 20 before napalm! Physics 143 before the H-bomb! Gov 30 before racism! Hurrah for learning and the things that it produces!

So when we turn our attention to the suffering world outside, to the structure of our intransigent school, or to the University's complicity in war and racism--when we turn to politics--the University, afflicted with learning paranoia, fights us. They did so with stalling, and ultimately with clubs, in 1969. They do so in a mild way now, by making conciliatory gestures, but not acting, over southern Africa (no moral imperative may influence investment, which serves learning). And they will do so anew when once again student interests broaden.

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Inherent conflict between the goals of students and the University, and the obvious danger of political repression, lie at the heart of the problems with the reform proposals.

To see these problems, we must first closely examine the proposed composition of the CRR (seven faculty, six students). Faculty members will still command a majority. The reform proposals triumphantly note that the faculty chairman "will vote only to break a tie." This is meaningless propaganda: the faculty chairman will vote only when his vote counts. The CRR is small, and a tie is not at all unlikely. Also, students might have to be disqualified, as they were after the 1969 strike, from the CRR, if they participated in the events under judgment, thus increasing the faculty majority. Indeed, 46 per cent students may not be enough to ensure justice.

Perhaps we should take a more radical stand by invoking the philosophy of the U.S. judicial system and demanding trial by our peers.

In addition, current regulations direct the House Committees to choose 11 people at random to form a selection board, which decides whether to pick candidates by ballot, lot, or an "alternative procedure." Then, CRR representatives are selected from the Houses' candidates by lot. Similar procedures apply to the freshman class and GSAS. If such a selection procedure provides us with a fairminded, competent, interested representatives, we will have only Lady Luck to thank. The reform proposals make no change in this procedure.

There are problems with the secrecy provision. CRR hearings should be public (perhaps broadcast on WHRB); to publish minutes only at the conclusion of a hearing is to inform the community only when it is too late to influence a possibly unjust decision.

Of course, one can imagine situations in which publicity would be undesirable, but clearly open hearings should be the rule, not the exception. Equally clearly, the CRR should not itself hold unregulated power to seal proceedings in cases where the University desires secrecy. Such a policy invites the CRR to hide its own abuses, as well as those of the University. Only in the most exceptional cases are the public and the press barred from criminal trials in this country.

During the Faculty's debate on the original Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities, Hilary W. Putnam, Professor of Modern Mathematics and Mathematical Logic, said, "What [the resolution] says, I would say, is that in the future ineffective protest is allowed, but effective protest means suspension and dismissal." We can only support the resolution if we believe that the greatest moral cause must bow to the smallest University rule. The current resolution states, "The Faculty regards it as implicit in the language of the Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities that intense personal harassment of such a character as to amount to grave disrespect for the dignity of others be regarded as an unacceptable violation of the personal rights on which the University is based."

What is "harassment"? What is "grave disrespect for the dignity of others"? Is a phone campaign to inform Dean Rosovsky of student opinion concerning Dean Fox's housing plan any of the above? This provision is sufficiently vague and broad as to represent a serious threat to political protest. It could be interpreted to apply to almost any political action. No similarly broad provision can be found in the U.S. Constitution.

The CRR can unilaterally alter its procedure and structure if the Faculty Council decides not to send the changes to the full Faculty for consideration. Need we discuss the abuse of a self-regulating body? If the CRR and Faculty Council wish, at some time, to take an action outside of Harvard law, they will be able to rewrite the rules to suit them. There is room here for reform.

Disciplinary authority is distributed in a rather confusing, possibly contradictory, way in the University. As we have seen, the CRR is explicitly empowered to discipline "interference with members of the University in performance of their nomal duties and activities..." Yet, according to the current edition of "Undergraduate Regulations and Services," "...offenses against law and order, or failure to behave with the maturity and responsibility expected of Harvard and Radcliffe students, will be dealt with as the Faculty and the Administrative Board shall determine." In addition, students may suffer immediate, temporary suspension ordered "...jointly by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and a Committee consisting of an equal number of student and faculty members." (This committee is not the CRR.)

The appeals board that the reform proposals call for also poses a great threat. Three faculty members and two students, whose selection process is nowhere mentioned in the proposals, could decide to re-hear a case on grounds of, "1) improper procedure; 2) discovery of new evidence; and 3) punishment inappropriate to the offense." Clearly, almost any case could be "fit" into one of these categories, and because of its tiny size the board would be especially dominated by Faculty opinion. The three professors on the board would be able unilaterally to override the CRR and pass judgments of their own. To put such power in the hands of three faculty members would be the greatest folly, legitimizing (through an apparently democratic institution) what could easily become a weapon for political repression. This could indeed be worse than the current CRR, although a properly democratic appeals board is an important reform.

It is very important that we compare what student presence will do to the CRR with what the boycott has accomplished. In one sense, our representatives can watch over the proceedings, alert to the injustices and in close contact with the student bocy. And to the (possibly small) extent that the students' votes are influential, justice may be more directly served.

On the other hand, if we send representatives, we implicitly accept the CRR's disciplinary authority; we legitimize the body. For years, the student boycott has tainted everything the CRR has done. No false cloak of democracy has obscurred the essential injustice of CRR organization. Nothing has obscured the real power base in "our" University--to the great embarassment of our oligarchs.

The boycott has given us great leverage--the leverage of moral protest--and has prevented the University from silently closing and dressing the last wounds of 1969, the wounds that are a constant reminder of this University's narrow viewed and its recent resort to bold brutality.

No one is against friendship in times of peace, but only a fool surrenders his weapons. Moral protest is our only weapon short of building takeovers, and to weaken it by giving our sanction to a CRR that remains essentially unjust is to invite more building takeovers in the next war.

If indeed, however, the "new, improved" CRR will dispense justice, then we must of course welcome it warmly, for justice is our ultimate goal. But we must be absolutely sure that this is the case before ending the boycott. I do not believe the case has yet been made to the Harvard community.

Finally, we must consider a basic question. Without real campus democracy, maybe there should be no CRR. Perhaps we should not legitimize a body designed to enforce rules which we had no hand in making--even if that body is itself democratically organized.

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It is clear, now, that much thinking and discussion must precede a decision on the CRR. For us, the CRR is a Supreme Court, doling out justice or injustice on a grand scale. In peace, it is hard for us to see this. But when war comes, we will be cursed if we make the wrong decision today.

It is also clear that only we--only the student body--can make this decision. No CRR, no Faculty Council, no dean, no Corporation, and no House Committee can settle this matter. Only a referendum of informed student opinion can insure that our wishes are respected. And it is our wishes that are important, for we will be the victims of political repression here is the wrong judgment is made.

In 1969, Hilary Putnam prophetically termed the original legislation empowering the Committee of 15 a "fake reform," that could only compromise the achievement of real reform. The current reform proposals are as fake as their ancestor.

William A. Schwartz '80 lives in Quincy House.