The Faculty Discusses South Africa Faculty Meeting Debate (cont.)
The following text is a transcript from the taped recording of the full Faculty meeting, which discussed in part University policy on its investments in corporations that operate in South Africa. The second half of the transcript will appear in tomorrow's Crimson.
The Crimson thanks WHRM FM for the tapes of the Faculty meeting.
MICHAEL L. WALZER
Mr. President, I think that I owe the Faculty a brief explanation of this docket item. Though I will speak today only for myself, I acted for a group of colleagues. When I asked for this discussion; colleagues who share with me a dissatisfaction with the recent report of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, and who share with me a sense that this Faculty should talk about the issues raised by Harvard's shareholding in corporations that have plants or do significant business in South Africa.
For myself, I don't believe that this Faculty, as a corporate body, ought to take political positions or make political pronouncements or test unnecessarily the limits of our collegiality. But here is a case where the University, through its legal officers, does have to take a position. As a shareholder the University has, as President Bok has recently written, an obligation to vote on issues placed before it, concerning the management of the corporations in which Harvard holds stock. What the role of the Faculty should be in reaching the decision that obligation requires, I don't know. I have no proposals to make, except the one I have already made.
But when the issues are an important as those raised by South African racism, we at least meet and argue about them. So let me begin the arguing. And the place to begin, I think, is with last year's ACSR report. That is a document subject to interpretation, and I shall suggest a strong reading of it. But however it is read, it is clear that this year's report represents a significant retreat from the positions staked out there. The first report was written with considerable force, boldness, collaboration; the second with an extraordinary, and an unexplained, trepidation.
Let me give examples that I think will open up the key issues. The earlier report clearly asserts the special character of South African racism, distinguishing it from other, more ordinary sorts of tyranny, not quite on the grounds that I would choose. I would have emphasized rather more the particular cruelty and the particular degradation involved in singling out a nation or a religious group or a race for systematic oppression.
But the case is made in that earlier report. The current report is hesitant and ambiguous on this issue. It claims that the special features of the South African case are controversial, as they no doubt are, but it draws back here, as everywhere else, from saying anything about the substance of the controversy, and thus leaves it an open question as to whether this case, any more than any other possible cases, ought to be of special concern to the University. The earlier report places the burden of argument squarely on corporations doing business in South Africa. "It is our opinion," last year's ACSR wrote, "that the case for singling out South Africa is compelling, that U.S. companies who choose to remain in South Africa must, on balance, be a constructive force in facing apartheid, and that the burden rests on those firms to demonstrate that their presence there is constructive." And then the report goes on to make it clear that demonstration will be difficult because the University in evaluating evidence presented by corporations is to take into account "the extent to which the company is willing to support the implementation of new policies designed to ameliorate the effects of apartheid even when such implementation may run counter to South African custom and test the limits of South African law." And then the report goes on to suggest that when that kind of demonstration can't be made, when the University finds that a company is in substantial non-compliance with the standards, the very high standards it has established, it should "initiate or support a shareholder resolution advocating the termination of the company's South African activities."
The current report, by contrast, manages with great difficult to conclude that Harvard can legitimately seek in formation from companies in which it holds stock, but it avoids placing the burden of argument on the corporations, or anywhere. It suggests that if information is not forthcoming there is nothing to be done, and its strongest statement on corporate withdrawal is that it is not prepared to make a blanket recommendation against initiating shareholder resolutions of the sort called for in last year's report. The main aim of this year's report, it seems to me, is to minimize the controversy it recognizes to be unavoidable, but the critical public it has in mind when it sets that goal seems to be corporate management, for the report is hardly likely to minimize controversy at Harvard University.
Now, what should Harvard's position be? Some of my friends and colleagues will speak today for divestiture. That is not my own position, though I appreciate the feelings of frustration and anger that it expresses. I worry that a political campaign for divestiture would necessarily focus whatever emotion it mobilized against the University, which is not directly involved in South Africa, rather than against the corporations, which are. And that seems to me the wrong focus, politically and morally. It represents, or it might represent, a politics and a morality of convenience, seizing on the nearest target rather than the right target.
The better focus, I think, is on those American corporations that are deeply and directly involved in South Africa. The appropriate program is not University divestiture, but corporate withdrawal. Last year's ACSR stopped short of that as a general program because its authors were committed to a case-by-case approach, for which they actually provided a carefully drawn-up timetable. But we are already far behind schedule, and the current report doesn't even refer to the timetable. Case-by-Case, I think, is now pretty clearly revealed as an impossible strategy. Conscientiously undertaken, it would consume more time, more energy, more resources than the University can, or should, expend. But if we take the special character of South African racism seriously, then it does not seem wrong to argue that we should prejudge the cases, as last year's report came very near to saying. That is, we should insist that it is the corporations that must prove the anti-apartheid character of their activities. We must insist that the standards of proof be very high, and we must recognize that they are unlikely to be met. And then the general policy of the University must be to work for the termination of corporate activity in South Africa. And the means, routinely, to make a fuss at shareholder meetings.
One reason, I should think the chief reason, for holding on to the stock, is precisely in order to make the fuss, to vote for, and to join with others, in initiating resolutions calling for corporate withdrawal. That at least is the position I have come to after the controversy of the past year; I should confess that it reflects, I think, an old-Left preference for staying and fighting rather than washing one's hands and walking away, and in putting it forward I hope done enough to start the argument that we should have. Thank you.
SELWYN R. CUDJOE
Mr. President, fellow colleagues, I had hoped to speak rather long, but in deference to my colleagues I will keep my remarks short.
I suppose I can begin by agreeing with Mr. Perkins in suggesting that the carrot should be pulled out before it even begins to grow. Anytime I address this body, I'm always overcome by feelings of fear and trepidation, a fear that I may say incorrect things and give offense to sensibilities; trepidation, a fear that I may say incorrect things and give offense to sensibilities; trepidation that genuine sentiments and concerns may be interpreted as expressions of hate and bitterness. Nonetheless, it seems to me that we enter into the University, which says on Dexter Gate "Enter to Grow in Wisdom," when I leave it says "Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind." And I think in any discussion on South Africa, it's better to draw on the past. And I thought I should draw upon an unrepentant racist, Mr. Hinton Helper (?), who in 1857 wrote about an impending crisis. Among the things he said, he said it may be painful but nonetheless profitable, to refer occasionally to the history of the past, to listen to the admonition of experience, and to learn lessons of wisdom from the efforts and actions of those who have preceded us, the drama of human life.
Among the things he suggested in 1857, when the policy of racial exclusiveness was at the heart of this country's legal system, was
A.) He suggested, no corporation with slaveholders in politics, no fellowship with them in religion, no affiliation with them in society.
B.) No patronage to slaveholding merchants, no guestship in slavewaiting hotels, no fees to slaveholding lawyers, no employment of slaveholding physicians, no audience to slaveholding parsons.
C.) No recognition of pro-slavery men except as ruffians, outlaws, and criminals.
D.) Abrupt discontinuance of subscriptions to pro-slavery newspapers.
E.) No more hiring of slaves by non-slaveholders.
F.) Immediate death to slavery, or if not immediate, unqualified proscription of its advocates during its existence.
This man, it seems to me, was a racist of the worst kind. But his proscription to the end of an inhuman system, it seems to me, was as perfect as it was just. Helper wrote in 1857 that many years before. Suggestions were made about the relationship, the necessary correction, between the urge for happiness, which is the human urge, and its necessary correction, first by natural impulses, secondly by the social consequences of our acts. We believe that if we are moral men, and if our chief concern is about the happiness of other men, we must be concerned about what those acts mean to other men.
Thus, it seems to me, that when one talks about morality, when one talks about the subject of the relationship between morality, politics and economics, there are three important concerns which, it seems to me, must be understood, or at least given consideration:
1.) Morality is not an abstract category, and indeed it is contingent upon the fulfillment of one's material needs, and the enjoyment of absolute equality between peoples.
2.) That morality is deeply structured upon a material basis, and that it is developed within a well-defined historical context, and as such reflects the needs of a given society at a particular moment of its development.
3.) The urge towards happiness, which I posit as a fundamental principle of morality, is directly related to the natural and social consequences of our actions, and the satisfaction is directly proportional, ultimately, to the degree towards which we allow that particular fulfillment in others.
Harvard University has suggested that apartheid is immoral. What it has not told us, however, is, "Immoral for whom?" Certainly it is immoral for blacks in that it brings to black people all sorts of unspeakable evils, and that it prevents the majority of them from realizing their happiness as well. to whites, apartheid brings to them well-defined privileges, which means large cars, beautiful homes, etc., and certainly allows them to enjoy the happiness which is realized as a loss of the unhappiness others. But this system of apartheid, which brings forth such happiness and privileges for whites, does not exist in a vacuum. It exists on a material basis. It exists, and is able to deliver these advantages and privileges to whites. It exists because it is based on the most advanced techniques that science and technology can offer, and that these techniques are acquired by commerce with countries such as the U.S.A.
It exists because the multinational of the U.S.A., through their investments in South Africa, provide the necessary capital for the Union of South Africa to continue its policy of apartheid that we must be particularly concerned, particularly because Harvard, I would disagree with the past speaker, that Harvard is not directly involved. Harvard is directly involved, particularly because its capital, $300 million of that, is directly a part of the larger capital which allows for technology and science, which allows for the ultimate degradation of people, that we are not an onlooker, that we are an integral part of that system.
Therefore, by logical implication, Harvard University, by providing capital for the Union of South Africa, is implicated in the continued misery of Africans whose happiness is negated by the process of apartheid.
I feel, therefore, that divestiture is in fact the only way to deal with this particular question. I thought I would say no more, but then I read the President's remarks, and I wanted to make a few brief references to those remarks, because I think that even though they are well-intentioned, that there are some tremendously important points with which I disagree very respectfully.
We are told that universities are designed to achieve particular purposes, that their special mission is the discovery and transmission of knowledge. We are therefore presented with concept of knowledge as if it were a living, organic being that is capable of making decisions for itself, and which tells the investigator what is important. It is almost as if Molecule A tells Researcher B that "I am more important, possibly, than Photosynthesis C." It seems to me that it is almost the same that if a student received a grade of "E" at this University, in fact it is in and of itself more important than the evils which transpired at Watergate.
I say No. I say that people who make these decisions, and who in fact decide what is more important, is a social scientist or political scientist who decide that the events of Watergate are much more important than the giving up of an "E" to a student.
Hence and therefore, the special purpose of a university is designed to do one particular thing. It seems to me it is designed to transmit values, and those values are given or transmitted to the organized body of knowledge.
But these decisions are in fact made by men. It seems that particularly because men process consciousness, which permits them to plan their activity mentally, and self-consciousness, which enables them to exercise self-control and to make moral judgements, that they are the ones who, in fact, must make these judgements. And even knowledge in and of itself is a special function, given all the respect to the President and the Deans, we do not need to be here, we could disband; because all we need to do if we want to know what the NAACP is saying, is put a TV monitor on, put a radio receiver on, and then we have knowledge and that is the special function of a university.
I suggest it's not. Decisions must be made by people, and in this light it becomes very important that the central business of this University when it's essentially tied in to a system of apartheid, cannot be simply pushed aside by saying that is not the central function, even though I recognize the importance of capital and the use of money. I mean, quite clearly, it becomes ridiculous if I suggest that money is unimportant, and I wouldn't be here. But the questions that we must make choices, and it seems to me we are making the wrong choice, and, as such, I disagree vehemently with those positions.
Secondly, I think it's very important--in Life we must make cetain decisions. I suspect that if the President, presumably, lived in 1857, he well might be a member of the slaveholding class, and of course, he would say to me, "Sir, yes, we must keep the system going because it is the case that Helper made, that most of the slaveholders were in agreement with slavery, that it was the best thing going, that even though all the economic arguments suggested that it was not the best thing going."
And I suspect that if I were living in 1857 I would be a slave, and I would argue, I would say "Mr. President, I think this system is bad, even though it contributes money to a certain institution in New England." And then I would say, "well, we may even come to blows."
But we live not in 1857, but in 1979, when we must make decisions, when we cannot take positions that in fact the university exists above society, that indeed the university is not implicated in society. It's not a case where the university studies knowledge, the John F. Kennedy School did not exist before the politicians and policy-making decisions. The body of knowledge comes first, and then organized forms are then set up to transmit that knowledge. And I am saying that if today, in any given coumtry, a group of black people abrogated the rights of the majority of white people, and if we accepted money from that government, we would be incorrect. We should not accept it not because we believe that we need capital, but because we believe our central mission is not simply the transmission of knowledge; our central function is to accept bits, if you'll accept the computer language, accept information, make judgements, and then opt within well-defined values which we hold and cherish to behose those values which distinguish us from other kinds of perhaps totalitarian societies, etc., etc., etc.
I say today that we wonder, President Carter's in trouble, why Iran? Why Saudi Arabia? Why are all these countries doing all these things to us? When we look around we see, for example, that other powers are on other sides of the issues. And then, for example, we say, "well, we are well meaning, we are kind, but somehow we always find ourselves on the wrong side of issues." And the position on April 9th, on the first stock issue, says, we cannot say, we cannot know, we cannot tell--Yes, we can tell! We know that the system is unjust, and we learn from the example of the American Revolution, will fall. And we say, when it falls, the argument has been made that it is a moral decision. These are not moral decisions.
We know very well that economics is not the relationship between commodoties. Economics is the relationships among men, because men make decisions. Does oil decide how much it will cost? No, it doesn't, neither does a tractor decide how much it will cost. Men decide how much of my oil will buy one of your tractors. And it is agreed that if you raise the price of your tractors, I will increase the price of my oil.
Men make decisions. And if, as we believe, that history is on the side of the struggling peoples of South Africa, and if we believe that justice shall triumph always over inhumanity and barbarity, it behooves us to make these decisions will have been made, we will be on the side of those people who are for justice.
It would be a correct economic decision because, as we see in what happened in Iran, lots of money has been lost. Why? Because men made certain decisions, and I'm suggestion that I'm afraid we must sell short-term advantages for long-term goals.
When the peoples of South Africa will have won their rights of justice and freedom, they will have to make certain economic decisions. It seems to me that if we stand on the side of justice, we'll be doing two things: We'll be reviving the spirit for which the country and the University stand, and we will be aligning ourselves with those forces that speak to the better impulses of man.
The Dean is reputed to have said that students remain at Harvard for four years and that Faculty members--tenured Faculty members, that is--remain for a lifetime, and the University is here for eternity. And our dear chaplain once said, and I will probably paraphrase it, that first God created heaven and earth, then he created Harvard. And I suspect he was right.
In sum, therefore, since the President is concerned with economic issues, and some are concerned with the moral issues. I will end with the theological.
I will say in the words of Psalm 19. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart reach you gentlemen in the house of the Lord."
Please, let us meditate on our action. And let us understand that we have given a great legacy to the world, but that we are in the process of losing that legacy because we are concerned with short-term goals. I will end by quoting Professor Perkins, you did it so beautifully, sir, and all my due respects to you:
"Please, let us withdraw that carrot tree before it begins to get seed on grow," because we are on the wrong course and we have a responsibility to the nation to say 'yes, we made some decisions, but we are wrong.' Perhaps we'd better do it another way.
I thank you.
PATRICE L.-R. HIGONNET
My speech will be short, although my indignation about this is considerable. The President's statement about the University's ethical responsibility can perhaps be paraphrased to say that we live in the real world, and that within limits we must take that into account. If we attempt to act upon the world, it may be tempted to act back on us in ways that we don't like. And his paper, I think, successfully addresses itself to our common sense, but it leaves aside another point which matters more to me than common sense--our sensibilities, and our image of what we are doing as individuals and as an humanistic institution.
It's been pointed out that the University very seldom speaks out on the countless atrocities that happen countlessly, and since 1936 there have been many. One reason is that most of these atrocities, fortunately, don't concern us in that they're carried out by people whom as a group we abhor and whose ideas repel us.
What makes South Africa more of a problem for me than Auschwitz or Cambodia is precisely that South Africans are very bourgeois; they're very much like ourselves. Their crimes are both our crimes. The evil that goes on in that nation is the kind that we find tolerable, perhaps at a different level. There are many sad parallels, I think, between the history of South Africa and that of our own country, and what happens there is of special concern to us because, I think, there but for the grace of God go we.
Now South Africa, of course, is not the most evil place in the world, but it does represent a distillation of middle-class meanness and egoism.
The President asked why South Africa deserves our special animosity, and the reply, I think, is easy to find; it's simply that South Africa is a deformed image of our own selves. Now how the world at large will judge us for speaking out on apartheid, and what the practical consequences of divestiture are, I don't know.
But it does seem to me fair that South Africa has become a crucial symbol for us. When we reflect about the morality of our own enterprise, and of ourselves as individuals, what we have to say about Auschwitz or Cambodia doesn't really matter, because those decisions are too easy; what will matter is the imagination that will be able to muster, in passing judgement, on those sins that we are most likely ourselves to commit.
I hope the last speaker will allow me to point out that in my statement I asked why, what is special about South Africa, I hope the rest of the Faculty will recognize that what I tried to do in that paper was summarize the historical reasons that have led universities to be reluctant to make political decisions, a set of reasons that led this Faculty to declare in 1970 "If this Faculty or the University as a whole accomodates its work to, or shapes its goals to political purposes, however worthy, its functions will be jeopardized, it qualities eroded, and its existence ultimately brought into question."
I think that we recognize that those are historic concerns, that they may not apply to all cases, and that indeed the University has expressed its position on South Africa, has laid out certain steps which it thought should be taken, which are reflected in last year's report, and the issue here is whether those steps are adequate, not whether the situation has been recognized by the University but whether the steps that it has recommended are adequate, and I just felt in view of your characterization I wanted to make that point clear.
In its January 1979 report the ACSR stated that Harvard would investigate the operations of corporations investing on South Africa on a case by case basis. Rather than initiating either information or action shareholder resolutions, Harvard would solicit information by less formal means. The presumed intent is to determine whether corporations are following "progressive labor practices," and whether such practices outweigh the support which corporations give to the apartheid regime. I will refrain from criticizing the cumbersomeness, slowness and ineffectiveness of such procedures. Instead, I wish to focus on what Harvard will find out, if it receives information comparable to that collected by other investigatory bodies. Specifically, I would like to discuss the findings of Sen. Dick Clark's Subcommittee on African
After an intensive investigation of the role and behavior of U.S. corporations in South Africa, an investigation conducted by research, questionnaires and public hearings, the Senate subcommittee determined
1. that the Sullivan principles were not being adhered to;
2. that even if they were, it would have little influence since less than 1 per cent of the black labor force was employed by U.S. corporations;
3. further, the subcommittee determined that U.S. banks and corporations were playing a vital role in maintaining and strengthening the South African apartheid regime by providing it with funds, advanced technology and productive capacity.
Harvard invests heavily in many of the corporations which play this major economic and political role in South Africa such as G.M., IBM, ITT, Exxon, Mobil and Raytheon. By retaining those investments, Harvard is taking a political unethical--stance. It is tying itself to powerful outside forces. It is not morally powerful outside forces. It is not morally neutral. Let me elaborate on these arguments.
The Sullivan principles call for 1) the integration of eating, comfort and work facilities; 2) equal and fair employment practices for all employees; 3) equal pay for equal work; 4) training programs to prepare blacks and other non-whites for supervisory, administrative, clerical and technical jobs; 5) hiring blacks and other non-whites in management and supervisory positions; 6) improving the quality of employees' lives outside the work environment in such areas as housing, transportation, education and recreation.
The Senate subcommittee sought information on the behavior of the over 300 firms investing in South Africa. Only 71 replied to the questionnaires--a most revealing fact in itself.
1. 43 companies had Equal Employment opportunity policies but most were not specific to South Africa. Moreover, 25 communicated these policies only verbally, casting doubt on their actual implementation.
2. Nearly 9000 of the 12,000 white employees in these firms received salaries, indicating skilled jobs. Only 1200 of the 8300 blacks received salaries.
3. 63 firms said they had equal pay for equal work policies, but 28 said they could not implement them due to the inexperience of black workers.
4. 25 firms, including such large and labor intensive operations as Ford, Firestone and Goodyear, paid their black workers at the Poverty Datum Line, a calculation of the minimum level necessary for survival, excluding rent and transportation.
5. No U.S. firms dealt with African trade unions.
6. The Senate subcommittee concluded that U.S. firms were not taking an aggressive role with the South African government on labor related issues. Few firms received fines or reprimands for violations of labor laws. Few firms asked the government for exemptions from certain laws. This raises, the report noted, serious questions about whether the corporations are enforcing their EEO policies, carrying out training programs or conducting business in a manner which does not perpetuate or strengthen the apartheid system.
Even if these firms implemented more progressive labor policies, it would have little impact on the position of blacks and other non-whites. The U.S. firms are largely capital intensive and employ less than 1 per cent of Black workers. Improved conditions in American-owned firms would not alter the fundamental facts of life for black South Africans. Blacks form 71 per cent of the population and receive 17 per cent of the income. Their wages, if they are employed, are 20 per cent of white wages in manufacturing and 11 per cent in mining. Four-fifths of workers show signs of malnutrition. Half of all black children die before the age of six.
Although U.S. banks and corporations have done little to improve the situation of blacks and other non-whites, they have provided vital support to the apartheid regime. According to the Senate subcommittee report:
1. U.S. private banks held $2.2 billion of the $7.6 billion in outstanding bank claims as of 1976. Since the early 1970s, U.S. banks have provided South Africa with one-third of its bank credits. These have gone to the state and to public corporations, the parastatals which are strong in iron, steel, railroads, electricity and chemicals. These loans have enabled South Africa to pursue a strategy of strategic investment in energy, armaments and industry at the same time that it was paying for oil at increased prices and raising its expenses for domestic security. U.S. aid was doubly important to the regime because Britain was unable to play its formerly dominant role.
2. As of 1976 the total value of U.S. investment was $1.665 billion or 40 per cent of all U.S. investment in Africa.
3. The U.S. provides South Africa with half of its computers, one-third of its vehicles and two-fifths of its petroleum.
4. The U.S. supplies advanced technology and equipment for the electrical, rubber, mining and agricultural industries. It is the major supplier of nuclear technology and technology for converting coal to oil.
5. U.S. firms, the Senate report stated, "do not avoid business transactions which might support the continuance of apartheid."
The overall assessment of the Senate subcommittee was even more scathing. Allow me to quite in full:
U.S. economic interests in South Africa may not be decisive in bailing South Africa out of its economic woes. But there is no question that it has been pivotal in directly assisting the South African Government during its worst economic difficulties in the past, and, if permitted, could do so in the future. International credit provided the margin of funds needed by South Africa in the 1974-76 period to finance its military buildup, its stockpiling of oil and its major infrastructure projects in strategic economic sectors such as transportation, communications, energy and steel production, all of which are related to security needs. Collectively, U.S. corporations operating in South Africa have made no significant impact on either relaxing apartheid or in establishing company policies which would offer a limited but nevertheless inportant model of multinational responsibility. Rather, the net effect of American investment has been to strengthen the economic and military self-sufficiency of South Africa's apartheid regime, undermining the fundamental goals and objectives of U.S. foreign policy.
South Africa is, I would argue, a situation where there is "no longer room for argument among people who accept out basic socio-economic-political system," to use the words of the Austin report cited in the most recent ACSR report. This is a situation where Harvard should not take a neutral position.
Of greater importance, this is a situation where Harvard has not taken a neutral position. The decision to retain investments, the decision to refrain from initiating shareholder resolutions, the decision to refuse to divest are political decisions, with ethical and moral implications. To pretend otherwise is at best disingenuous, at worst dishonest. To pretend otherwise speaks ill of the moral education we claim to impart to our students. Far from being "free from pressures exerted by other groups in the society," Harvard is tied to and strongly influenced by those corporations in which it has invested. The choice is not between political and moral action, but between competing political and moral courses. I urge the Corporation to recognize this, to reconsider its policies and to divest itself of stocks in corporations which invest in South Africa.
THEDA R. SKOCPOL
In preparing for this Faculty Meeting, I have tried to review the major reports and position papers issued at Harvard over the last two years on the question: How should Harvard respond to requests that it use its power as an investor and shareholder to try to influence events in South Africa? The official documents I have reviewed--including reports of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, the Corporation's statement of last spring, and various statements by President Bok--reveal an unmistakable trend. There is a steady retreat from the notion that the University has any responsibility to use its power in ways that could actively help to further basic institutional change in South Africa. The ACSR Report of last year (March 1978), while not presenting a consistent or fully adequate position, did foresee ways for the University to work actively (if necessarily indirectly) for change in South Africa, but this spring's ACSR Report abandons without reasoned comment all such possibilities. The culminating step (so far) in this steady retreat is the "Open Letter" issued last week by President Bok on "The Ethical Responsibilities of the University in Society." This letter, I believe, requires serious rebuttal, because it quite obviously provides the rationale for the current evolution of University policy on the South Africa issue.
The essential points in President Bok's letter are straightforward. The "institutional goal" of the University is defined in a purely formal manner as "the discovery and transmission of knowledge." Universities function, President Bok insists, is not to "reform society in specific ways." And he maintains that the University must avoid taking ethical or political positions except on issues which directly involve the exercise and defense of existing academic functions.
I see two basic flaws in this overall argument--especially in relation to the South Africa issue. Let me discuss each in turn.
Flaw number one: On the South Africa issue, the University is unavoidably involved with outside forces, above all because it controls and invests very substantial financial resources. The use of these resources is exactly what is at issue in the South Africa debate. Will the University heed the call of those who ask it to use its leverage as an institutional investor to strengthen the alliance of groups working for political change in South Africa? Or will it continue its existing practice of cooperating with corporations whose presence in South Africa necessarily functions to reinforce the power of the existing government? The issue is not by any stretch of the imagination whether Harvard will be involved with "outside forces" on the South Africa question. It is which side Harvard will attempt to strengthen through the responsible use of the institutional means at its disposal. If Harvard chooses to take only the mildest measures, this will constitute, in effect, a choice to ally with forces supporting the status quo in South Africa.
The second major flaw in President Bok's portrayal of the University has to do with how he defines the University's inherent interests, and therefore how he assesses the relative costs of different possible courses of institutional action. President Bok writes as if the University's only fundamental interests lay in protecting existing academic functions and obtaining adequate funds from outside sources to pay for them. As a paid faculty employee of the University, I would not for a moment downplay the importance of these matters, or suggest that costs with respect to them should not be most carefully weighed. But the University has more than financial interests at stake in the South Africa matter. Official documents have already is fundamentally abhorrent to all those who espouse basic liberal and democratic values. Universities such as Harvard presuppose such values as one of the very conditions for their institutional functioning. The University cannot fail to do what it can to oppose South African apartheid without losing respect in the eyes of those students, faculty, alumni and people beyond the University who care deeply about the liberal and democratic values that are so blatantly violated by the South African regime. Harvard, moreover, is a University that claims international respect. In our troubled world, basic liberal and democratic values always have been--and increasingly will be-threatened. They must be aggressively defended and asserted, just as the Harvard endowment must be actively managed in changing economic circumstances.
If materially and symbolically powerful institutional such as Harvard University do not help to assert liberal and democratically inspired opposition to apartheid, who will? The historical record shows very clearly that profit-making corporations cannot be depended upon to further liberal and democratic values. Corporations will not necessarily oppose liberal-democratic institutions where these hold sway. But corporations are willing to coexist with any established political regime--provided only that order is ensured and profits can be made. Examples range across the political spectrum from the coexistence of Gulf Oil with the Cuban supported Angolan government to the symbiosis of the Krupp business interests with the Nazis. Logically enough, therefore, multinational corporations, many of them U.S. bases, are coexisting in a mutually beneficial way with the racist South African government. In return for order and opportunities for profit, these corporation provide the South African regime with taxes, technology, manufactured products, and foreign exchange advantages.
In my view, Harvard must in the direction of a policy of divestiture--at least selective divestiture--if it is to use its existing institutional power at all effectively to weaken rather than reinforce apartheid in South Africa. Because that racist system is politically entrenched and enforced, it cannot possibly be affected by marginal adjustments in the economic behavior of individual U.S. corporations. Instead, steps must be taken to weaken the capacities of the South African state. Repeatedly, divestiture has been portrayed in official Harvard documents as an empty moral gesture, a way of dissociating Harvard from the South Africa problem. On the contrary, divestiture is a strategy of active involvement in a political movement against apartheid. It is a strategy that makes sense for private U.S. institutions that must try to influence the situation from afar by economic and symbolic means. Divestiture as a strategy recognizes the basic fact that all existing regimes in the world depend upon economic and technological resources and upon recognition from other nations. If these resources and recognition can be, over time, partially withdrawn from the South African regime, it will weaken, hastening measurably the day of its demise.
At little cost--and considerable moral credit--to itself, Harvard could, after due deliberation, identify major U.S. corporations in which it is a substantial shareholder, corporations which are providing significant resources of taxes, technology, and essential products to the South African government. These corporations could be publicly named, with the University pledging to divest their stocks over an undisclosed period of time if, by a given date, those corporations do not withdraw from South Africa. By this policy of selective divestiture, Harvard would visibly ally with other groups and organizations in U.S. society (including other universities) in active opposition to apartheid. This effort, at the very least, would publicly dramatize the need for vigorous opposition by Americans to apartheid. And probably such an effort could do even more in the end. If major, prestigious institutional investors do begin to exert financial pressure, legislators (and even corporate managers concerned about intercorporate competition) will begin to work toward U.S. laws to regularize corporate withdrawal from South Africa. Harvard then could and should join in the process of what President Bok has called "reasoned debate essential to decision-making in a democracy" to spur the enactment of such laws. If Harvard could do this on the Bakke case? Harvard need not respond institutionally to every political issue that comes along. But South Africa raises questions of the same order as Nazi oppression of the Jews in the 1930s. No form of oppression is more repugnant to liberal-democratic values than institutionalized racism.
At present, the Harvard administration is tending to say that the University should prudently do almost nothing to reduce its indirect financial support for apartheid. I submit to all of my fellow faculty that this policy is alarming and misguided. Harvard's true institutional interest lies in actively opposing South African apartheid. In significant part, it is up to the Faculty to urge a more responsible course of action upon the University. I hope that each of you who dissents from the University's current posture will express your feelings to the ACSR and the President.