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 So far, they have withdrawn their delegates each year as soon as upperclassmen explained to them the details of the CRR's origins and purpose.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.

Berg became politicized at another campus--he joined his first political demonstration in 1963 at the University of Wisconsin. He came to Harvard a year later and joined SDS in 1967.

By the time of the University Hall bust, he recalls, he knew he did not want to give any legitimacy to the Committee of Fifteen's proceedings by attending his own hearing. Besides disapproving of the particular practices of the committee, Berg felt that its purpose--to determine who was guilty and who wasn't--showed that University administrators had missed the whole point of the collective political action on campus in those years.

"In the midst of this whole struggle against ROTC, Harvard expansion, the war," he says, "the CRR was trying to decide which individuals merited a suspension, which a 'suspended suspension.' We saw these hearings as an attempt to get bogged down on the particulars of whether an account was factual or not," he explains. "The CRR was not only seen then as repressive, but as an attempt to change the focus."

Hearing that undergraduates are considering breaking the boycott of CRR, Berg shakes his head sadly. Just that day at Suffolk University in Boston, where Berg teaches, the faculty had voted to establish ROTC on campus, despite vociferous dissent from him and a few others. "There's a change going on," he says.

If face to face with Harvard undergraduates today who want to break the boycott, Berg says he would argue, "If you are a part of it, you are making the system work," no matter what intentions the students may have for reform.

"I don't see what student participation in a disciplinary body is supposed to accomplish, what end it serves," he adds. The CRR "began with the assumption that protest was wrong and people should be punished," and that, Berg concludes, is something no well-meaning student representative could eradicate.

Harvard v. Lowry Hemphill '72

Lowry Hemphill '72 helped escort the deans out of University Hall that April and her face appeared in the photographs taken on the building's steps. But unlike the older students involved in removing the deans--students with a record of prominence and leadership in SDS--Hemphill was "an unknown freshman," and she believes that had something to do with her comparatively light sentence. The Committee of Fifteen handed her a "warning," then dismissed three students for the same wrongdoing.

Hemphill continued to participate in demonstrations after the University Hall occupation, and in 1970 she received a letter from the CRR asking her to come to a hearing. "We weren't told the charges against us beforehand," Hemphill recalls. "We were just told the date of the hearing."

A resident tutor went to Hemphill's hearing--she was staying away from the CRR with everyone else at this point--and he told her later that the CRR had charged her with participating in a rally she never attended. The tutor told the committee members, who were sitting around a table covered with photographs and long lists of names, that the picture of a woman which they had identifed as Hemphill was in fact someone else. But, her tutor told her, "they didn't seem interested."

The CRR gave her a "suspended suspension," but did not notify her until a week later. That day the picket wound around Holyoke Center, where the hearing was taking place. "At that point, so many people were on suspended suspension that everyone had paper bags with Dean May's face on them over their heads," Hemphill recalls. She joined the picket, but failed to bring proper masquerade attire. Someone spotted her and notified CRR, in session on the tenth floor. It decided on the spot, Hemphill's tutor later told her, to knock her penalty up one notch from "suspended suspension" to "suspension."

Her suspension had "a chilling effect" in Whitman Hall, where she was living that year, she says: "Twelve or fifteen people in my dorm got letters of warning; I got thrown out. So I was an object lesson to them. It was saying to all the other people, if you take the next step, this is what will happen to you."

When it came time for Hemphill to apply for readmission, the CRR notified her that she must first appear before the body, apologize and promise "good behavior" in the future.

"I was still really angry at the whole thing. And I just felt that I couldn't say I was sorry for things I didn't do and I couldn't promise not to do anything. The war was still going on. People like me were still protesting at campuses all over," she says.

So Hemphill finished her undergraduate program at the University of Connecticut, then returned to Harvard's Graduate School of Education, where she is a second-year student. Although she was permitted to reenter the University system, there remains a visible reminder of her transgression--in large block letters taking up a good third of the transcript sheet are stamped the words, "Required to withdraw."

Although "the people at the Graduate School of Education seemed to understand what it was all about," at other schools where she applied the admissions officers were suspicious. "They would look at it and think I torched a dorm."

Harvard v. Jonathan M. Harris '69

By the time Jonathan M. Harris '69 took a dean by the arm and led him to the door of University Hall, he was already prominent in SDS and "high on the Committee of Fifteen's hit list," in his words. The committee assigned Harris, along with 15 other students present that day, the penalty of "separation from the University." The punishment denied him a degree only a few days before Commencement.

But Harris had no intention of departing the Yard so swiftly, and he got a job that summer as a porter carrying luggage for summer school students. An administrator caught sight of him, and reported him to the Committee of Fifteen.

Soon after Harris received an admonitory letter on the Committee of Fifteen letterhead, advising him, "We have been informed that you have already disregarded that notice, which information, if confirmed, jeopardizes your prospects for readmission."

Out of a job carting suitcases, Harris was soon drafted and out at Fort Hood, Texas, 123rd Maintenance Battalion. After two years with a clean record in the Army, his company commander agreed to write him a letter of recommendation, vouching for his character and suggesting that the CRR grant him his degree.

While the CRR scrutinized his army record, Harris returned to Cambridge. His senior tutor took him aside and advised him to apologize to the committee so it would grant his request. "He tried to persuade me basically to crawl," Harris says. He refused.

In December 1970, Harris received another letter, this one from Donald G. Anderson, McKay Professor of Applied Mathematics, then CRR chairman, notifying him that he would receive his B.A. degree, but spelling out that "such permission would be granted on the understanding that you do not wish to return to Harvard, but simply wish to be returned to good standing in order that you may apply for the A.B. degree."

From what Harris could make out, the CRR seemed to operate on two levels. On the surface, Harris says, it simply matched the penalty with the offense. But beneath that, the CRR--or rather the administration behind it--seemed to single out the recognized SDS leaders. Of the 400 demonstrators in University Hall, they alone got slapped with the dismissals and suspensions. "In theory," Harris says, "you had broken a rule and therefore had to be expelled. But in practice, they didn't care about the rules."

By including a few more liberal-minded Faculty members on CRR--Harris points to Stanley Hoffmann, professor of Government--the CRR seemed to represent a broader spectrum of opinion in the community than it actually did. "The self-styled liberals gave the cover of legitimacy to a McCarthy-style political repression," Harris says.

Harvard v. John T. Berlow '71

John T. Berlow has a "71" after his name in the alumni directory, but he never did get his degree. After carrying James Thomas, former dean of freshmen, out the doors of University Hall, Berlow was promptly dismissed by the Committee of Fifteen. His removal of the dean was "totally non-violent," he says--unlike his own eviction from the building at the hands of state troopers--but the administration was taking no chances on Berlow. When he applied for readmission two years later, permission to return was denied.

For a while Berlow worked in a factory, drove a truck, and tried to convince Harvard that he should finish his undergraduate degree program. Giving up, finally, he finished his B.A. at Boston University, switching from his Harvard concentration--political science--to music. He now works in an MIT laboratory, developing computer systems for children.

But the news that Harvard students might break the CRR boycott hurts. "It's a slap in the face to all of us who fought something that we thought was important," he says.

Berlow never considered appearing before the Committee of Fifteen when he was summoned: "The position of most students at the time was that they were out to get us." Because he did not attend his hearing, Berlow knows little of the committee's internal proceedings. He and other students did, however, know by word-of-mouth the names of those who presented testimony against them. Deans were not the only ones. "A number of students were known to be informants," Berlow says.

But for the most part Berlow did not spend much time thinking about the CRR, because its goal--the preservation of correct and respectful behavior--seemed irrelevant in light of events in the world outside. "The war," he concluded then and concludes now, "was a hell of a lot more important than behaving in a gentlemanly manner."

Harvard v. Mark Y. Liberman '69

Mark Y. Liberman '69 skipped his scheduled hearing before the Committee of Fifteen. It did not strike him as a particularly significant event to attend, he says; he had rallies to organize, leaflets to distribute. But mostly, he did not believe that his presence would make any difference in Meeting Room K.

From the 'looks of the committee's formal letter listing his charges--"the Bill of Particulars," Liberman calls it now--it appeared to him that the committee had already found him guilty. A few weeks later it did, formally, and Liberman was forced to leave Harvard. Shortly after, he was drafted and on his way to Vietnam.

Other than the invitation to attend his hearing, Liberman knew nothing of the status of his case until June 1969, when the decision was announced at a press conference. He then received a letter, dismissing him and advising him not to show his face around campus. So the Group I, National Science Foundation Scholarship winner headed off for the war.

When he returned, MIT offered to honor his scholarship and allow Liberman to enroll in a doctoral program in linguistics, although he lacked an undergraduate degree. He received his Ph.D. there and now works in Bell Laboratories in Chatham, New Jersey.

To Liberman, the details of the offenses the committee charged him with seemed trivial. "The issue to all of us wasn't that we had done it, but whether it was right. And they weren't prepared to argue that with us," he says.

Speaking in favor of continuing the boycott, Liberman describes placing students on the CRR as a way of "getting students to do it to themselves." The only students who he can imagine wanting to sit on the CRR, he says, are those interested "in the kind of experience they can put on their resume."

While working on his dissertation at MIT, Liberman ventured into the Yard one quiet fall day in 1972, and met a friend for lunch in the Dudley House cafeteria in Lehman Hall, once the center for many SDS sessions.

In the middle of a sandwich, Liberman looked up to see Thomas Crooks, master of Dudley House, peering over at him. Crooks took him aside and politely reminded him that the University ruling prevented him "from ever setting foot on University property again." (Crooks says he does not remember telling any students to leave, and calls such statements "silly.")

Now Liberman has a reputation in linguistics, and University scholars have unknowingly invited him several times to speak at linguistics conferences on the Harvard campus. He has accepted all such speaking engagements, and so far, he says, "they have not called in the University patrol."

Harvard v. "Janet Wheeler '70"

Unlike most students disciplined by CRR, Janet Wheeler '70 decided to show up for her first hearing. But after one round in Meeting Room K, she decided she had had enough. "It was a fairly unpleasant and frightening experience," she says today. After she attended several rallies and received five summonses to come to more hearings, the committee suspended her--two days before Commencement.

Wheeler and her tutor, who was acting as her lawyer, were guided through several locked doors before entering the pent-house board room of CRR. The proceedings that followed, she says, "confirmed what everybody else had been saying about CRR--that it was a kangaroo court." She sat before a panel of committee members, the table between them covered with photographs.

"You know that Arlo Guthrie song--'Eight-by-ten glossies with circles and arrows'?" she asks. "Well, that is exactly what is was like." In the photographs she saw, almost everyone was identified by name. But only a few faces were circled, and these people, she recalls, were the ones who eventually received the stiffest penalties. Wheeler also remembers asking the committee why, if it had identified almost 400 protesters, it had only disciplined 50. No response.

A professor on the committee handed her a photograph and asked if the face was hers. It was: she stood by a crowd of students holding a sit-in sponsored by the Revolutionary Youth Movement, a political group that opposed her own. She says she had walked by to observe the sit-in, and played no part in it.

After that one encounter with the CRR, she had no desire to return. So it wasn't until later that she heard from her tutor--who attended one of her later hearings--that Wheeler's cousin, a graduate student resident adviser, had testified against her.

A demonstration outside Holyoke Center that Wheeler participated in later in the spring, sealed her fate. The protesters were wearing paper bags with Dean Ernest R. May's face sketched on the front. May began walking up to students and lifting masks, including hers, Wheeler recalls. The CRR subsequently suspended her.

Wheeler left Harvard in the spring of 1970, in the middle of Commencement, without a degree. Her plans to go into social work were stalled--she could not begin graduate studies without a B.A.

Two years later, when she had given up on social work and wound up teaching in the Boston public school system, she received a letter from the CRR. It said the University might grant her a degree if she wrote them a letter, outlining in detail her activities since leaving Harvard and showing the CRR that she had been conducting herself in a way that indicated "good character." She did, and received her degree.

Janet Wheeler is a pseudonym for a member of the class of '70 who asked not to be identified in this article.