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.
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.
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.
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.
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