The University Tries its Students: Case Histories From the CRR File

IT TOOK LOCAL POLICE and state troopers less than an hour to clear University Hall of student protesters in 1969, battering heads with billyclubs, choking lungs with tear gas, and knocking Timothy H.S. Venn '72 from his wheelchair onto the concrete. It took the Faculty less than one day to agree to set up a disciplinary body called the Committee of Fifteen, later the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR), to punish these student demonstrators. It took less than two months for the Committee of Fifteen to penalize 135 students, forcing 16 to leave the University--many for good.

And it has taken slightly more than a decade for the students who have taken their places to forget everything. They have forgotten that the members of the Committee of Fifteen--along with the CRR, which replaced it--conducted its hearings in seclusion behind locked and guarded doors on the penthouse-level Meeting Room K of Holyoke Center, high above the student rallies. They have forgotten that it accepted hearsay evidence; they have forgotten that it would not permit appeal outside of itself. They have forgotten that students and faculty were not equally represented on the committee panel. They have forgotten that Faculty and administrators--not to mention the police--could not be prosecuted for breaking the same rules as the students.

This month the Class of '84 and South and Adams Houses decided to break the student boycott of CRR--a boycott started because of these conditions and because students felt the CRR existed only to stifle political expression. The Freshman Council and the Adams House Committee last week decided to place their decisions on hold while they poll their student constituencies. South House students, however, still plan to send two students to CRR, which has not met since 1975.

It isn't the first time students considered breaking the boycott. For several years, the freshman class has voted to send representatives to the CRR after receiving a letter from the dean of students requesting them to do so. So far, they have withdrawn their delegates each year as soon as upperclassmen explained to them the details of the CRR's origins and purpose.

Students who have volunteered to serve as representatives this year do not feel troubled by history. "What happened ten years ago, happened ten years ago," one said. But, asked another student at an Adams House debate, does anyone remember what happened ten years ago? Only one student could venture a halting reply.

BEYOND THE YARD, though, 135 students do remember. Most of them still stand by the political convictions that lost them honorable standing at Harvard. Most remember more about the split-seconds of disbelief when the gas-masked police appeared in the doorway of University Hall than they do of the Committee of Fifteen's proceedings.

Most did not attend their hearings before the committee as a matter of principle. But they do remember the network of informants--faculty, tutors and administrators--that identified them as offenders and testified against them before the committee. They remember the University photographers in the Yard during the next year of rallies. "Some of them told me they were from the publicity office," one woman recalls. Another remembers "cameras in the trees."

They remember too that the CRR often mixed up its charges. One student was dismissed for removing one dean from University Hall when he actually had led another from the building. One had his picture snapped as he was walking by a sit-in against Dow Chemical recruiters on campus--a sit-in he never participated in.

Most often, they remember that several students would break the same rule, all would have their pictures taken, but only a few would get kicked out of school by the committee. That select few, they say, always seemed to correspond to the political leadership of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

At the time, there was not much the students could do to protect themselves--short of becoming politically neutral. Some wore paper bags over their heads during rallies. One group of students formed a wandering minstrel troupe and roamed from House to House singing to the tune of "That's My Baby" about the CRR: "You're right, we're responsible; yes, you are reprehensible..."

MORE THAN A DECADE later, these former students still argue that a disciplinary committee created by administrators and faculty who wield power should not be "prettified"--one student's word--by undergraduates with no power and no reason to expect that they will gain it. Instead, they advise, students should study the University's power structure and remember what they learn. The stories of these students' encounters with a student-faculty disciplinary committee constitute the only concrete evidence students of today have to review in deciding what part, if any, they should play in bodies like CRR. Here are a few of their stories.

Harvard v. John C. Berg

John C. Berg was one of the less fortunate protesters in the April 1969 University Hall takeover. For "forcibly ejecting" a dean out the door--"I held his arm," Berg recalls--he not only faced the Committee of Fifteen but also landed in a Boston court. In December 1969, the Government graduate student was indicted and convicted of assault and battery and spent nine months in the Middlesex House of Correction.

After his release from prison, Berg drove a laundry truck and worked as a clerk until, three years later, Harvard readmitted him to finish his dissertation. Though the University had dismissed him, he returned to the Yard to work with SDS in organizing students, attempting especially to draw attention to what he saw as sexism and racism in Harvard's employment practices.

The CRR sent him several warning letters, advising him to stay off campus, then hauled him into court again for trespassing. Witnesses in the administration testified that they had seen him, and he was fined $20.