The Strike as History

The Crimson had originally planned to publish a special supplement this month to examine the events and outcomes of the Harvard Strike of April 1969, with the benefit of ten years of hindsight. Because of technical problems, we are instead presenting those pieces as part of a five-part series, which will run in The Crimson all this week. Today's features recount the story of the Strike, and offer some reflections on the changes the College has undergone since then; future pieces will look at events and issues in more detail.

Ten years after the fact, it is easy to forget what types of issues could provoke the unprecedented happenings of April 1969. Some stemmed from the perhaps inevitable clash between a changing student body and a traditionalist administration; others reflected a more widespread discontent throughout the country. Countless authors have attempted to analyze the peculiar mood of outrage that pervaded college campuses in the late '60s and early '70s, but over a decade the conclusions have tended to be obscured, forgotten, or condensed into broad and meaningless generalities. At Harvard, many current undergraduates tend to dismiss the Strike as a perverse outbreak of radicalism, the last loud roar of a generation of frustrated left-wingers bent on changing the world. That particular theory overlooks the simple, quite basic fact that student politics at Harvard were, until the Strike, familiarly moderate; it took the pervasive horror of the war in Vietnam, and the more immediate horror of the University Hall bust, to spur the campus into activism.

The issue that struck at the heart of most students, and indeed triggered the protest for many, was the University's continuing involvement with the Reserve Officer Training Corps. ROTC symbolized, for many, the University's complicity in an evil war--the financial link to the military, the conduit for Harvard students into the war itself, was so direct, so tangible, that it became the focus for the anti-war protests on campus. As time passed, more and more students accepted the arguments of the activists in SDS: ROTC must go. The Faculty, led by then-President Nathan M. Pusey '28 and Franklin L. Ford, then dean of the Faculty, did not agree. "Harvard is involved in the war in Vietnam like any other agency or organization of the American people," Ford had told students in 1967, and that statement was a fairly accurate representation of the issue between students and Faculty.

On December 12, 1968, about 100 anti-ROTC demonstrators refused to leave Paine Hall, the site of a special Faculty meeting. Fred L. Glimp '50, then dean of the College, warned the students to leave; when they refused, University police collected their bursar's cards, and Glimp promised disciplinary action. The Administrative Board voted to ask the students to withdraw, but the full Faculty--in an unprecedented move--refused to follow the Ad Board's lead. The Faculty placed 57 students on probation--replacing many of the students' scholarship with loans. The fate of the Paine Hall demonstrators became another symbol around which growing numbers of students would rally.

The Faculty did take some steps against ROTC--voting in February, 1969, to strip ROTC courses of academic credit, and to revoke the Corporation appointments of ROTC instuctors--but it overwhelmingly rejected the SDS demand that Harvard expel ROTC from campus. Gen. C.P. Hammun, national director of the ROTC program, announced the next day that the prospects of keeping ROTC were "extremely good."

Student dissatisfaction with ROTC grew, and was matched by a growing controversy over the role of black studies at Harvard. Amid the growing tide of black consciousness in the '60s, Harvard had stayed relatively unmoved; there had been talk about establishing an African studies program ever since the '50s, when Harvard turned down a grant to establish such a program, but there had been little action. It was not until May, 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination and a new groundswell of black activism, that the Faculty's liberal conscience got the better of it, and Dean Ford established a Committee on African and Afro-American Studies. Henry Rosovsky, then professor of Economics, chaired the committee, which eight months later produced a report calling for the creation of a degree program in Afro-American Studies, establishment of a center for black students, and creation of a new committee to revamp African studies. Another issue had come out into the open.

Leaders of the Harvard-Radcliffe Association of African and Afro-American Students (Afro) scored the Rosovsky report on several grounds. Primary among these was its demand that students have a real say in the new department's affairs; Afro insisted that the proposed department's executive committee include students with voting rights, who would help decide tenure and curriculum questions. Afro was also incensed at the insistence of the Standing Committee on Afro-American Studies--which had been set up following the Faculty's acceptance of the Rosovsky report: that concentrators in the proposed department combine their major with an "allied field." The joint-concentration proposal struck many blacks as an insulting attempt to cheapen the academic standing of Afro-American Studies. The spring grew less and less quiet.

The final point of contention lay in the persistent problem of Harvard's relationship with the surrounding community. Town-gown relations have never been overwhelmingly cordial in Cambridge, but in 1969 the problems were especially acute. The University, with its vast real estate holdings, received numerous complaints from tenants about high rents and unsafe conditions; the murder of a Cambridge woman in a Harvard-owned building led to a lawsuit charging that Harvard ignored housing laws requiring locks on apartment house doors. In addition, the University's plans to expand facilities in the Medical area, and to clear the way for construction of the Kennedy School of Government, called for the demolition of thousands of University-owned housing units. The Faculty's special Committee on the University and the City, chaired by James Q. Wilson, Shattuck Professor of Government, called for the appointment of an administrative vice president to handle Harvard's relations with the community, but many tenants clearly wanted more concrete action.

The plight of the tenants did not immediately affect most Harvard students. However, within SDS the tenants' demands assumed a position of importance, as members of the group's Progressive Labor wing began to stress the importance of a student-community alliance. It was through SDS--which to most students represented the militant opposition to ROTC that was rapidly gaining support on campus--that the tenants' demands became inextricably linked with the more broadly perceived anti-war sentiment. The lines of opposition became more clearly defined as the spring wore on.

The immediate catalyst for the Strike was, of course, the student occupation of University Hall on April 9 and the brutal police bust that demands--including the removal of ROTC from the campus, restoration of scholarships to the Paine Hall demonstrators, a roll-back in rents for all University tenants, and a commitment by Harvard not to destroy housing units in the Med Area and at the Kennedy School site--were set forth. But proposals for an immediate building occupation were three times rejected. Later on, the University administration attempted to paint the sudden decision of 300 students to take over University Hall, ejecting Deans Ford, Glimp and several others along the way, as the actions of a small minority that went against the wishes of most students. That point, however, is far from clear; although reports at the time said that a "substantial majority" of students outside the building that day voted not to occupy it, several participants in the occupation have said this was due in great part to objections to the tactical problems of an immediate takeover, rather than philosophical opposition to such an action.

No matter what the student mood before the occupation, it is clear that Pusey's decision to call in Cambridge and suburban police to remove the demonstrators galvanized the vast majority of the University into horrified protest. The eviction of the demonstrators, in which 250 were arrested and 75 injured, prompted a mass meeting at Memorial Church that called the first three-day strike of classes on April 10. Two thousand students--including many "moderates," who the day before had helped demonstrate against the SDS takeover, holding signs saying "SDS does not represent Harvard" --voted overwhelmingly to shut the University down.

Even the Faculty--which later voted overwhelmingly to drop criminal charges against the arrested students--was appalled. Pusey, however, has ever since held his ground, saying the bust was the only way to protect the University; two weeks ago he reiterated that stand, stating that the ten intervening years have "not affected at all" his judgement that the occupation was a danger to Harvard and all it stood for.

The rest of April passed in a frenzy. Afro added its demands to the SDS list, and the Faculty showed signs of nervousness as the student strike continued. On April 14 a mass meeting of almost 10,000 people at Harvard Stadium voted to continue the strike for three more days, and the situation grew even more tense. The Standing Committee on Afro made its first concession, dropping the joint-concentration provision; nonetheless, Afro continued to press its other demands, and the furor over ROTC, fueled by revulsion at the bust, continued at fever pitch.

On April 17, the Faculty passed a resolution ending all "special privileges" for ROTC, reducing it to the status of any other extracurricular activity. At the same meeting, however, the Faculty deferred a decision on granting student participation in the Afro Department. Enraged. Afro leaders promised to hold "office hours" in the Faculty Room at University Hall to air their grievances to the Faculty.

The ROTC vote, however, defused a great deal of opposition within the student body. The next day, another mass meeting at the stadium decided, by a vast majority, to suspend the strike for a week and the strike never resumed.

Officially, the Strike had ended. But there remained a number of issues before the Faculty, the most explosive of which was the set of Afro demands. Following Afro's "office hours," the Faculty began to reconsider its position. At its April 22 meeting in the Loeb Drama Center, it voted, 251 to 158, to dispense with precedent and adopt an only slightly modified version of Afro's demands. The decision provoked a firestorm of criticism; although the Faculty sponsors of the Afro motion called it a "friendly amendment" to the Rosovsky proposals, Rosovsky angrily disagreed. He resigned his seat on the Standing Committee while comparing the Faculty vote to the British capitulation to the Nazis in Munich. Other national observes also called the vote a capitulation, but Pusey--at long last realizing the necessity of some sort of compromise--defended it, saying, "The black student thing is a very special matter."

The Strike also had another tangible effect: later that spring the Corporation promised to build 1100 lew-and middle-income housing units in Boston. It later promised to build additional housing units in Cambridge, as well.

And yet the victories of the Strike have been eroded over the past ten years. In 1972 the Faculty, taking advantage of what had in 1969 seemed only a formality, exercised its power of review and effectively removed the student voice within Afro. On other fronts, too, the strikers' demands have been forgotten; although ROTC is officially gone, it had made something of a comeback through a cross-registration program at MIT, while the issue of University expansion and community relations has frequently been a problem for Harvard. Ten years, it seems, have allowed the Faculty and administration to forget many of the lessons of 1969. Whether students, too, have forgotten, is a question that the events of this week may help to answer.