HARVARD has never been big on throwing its institutional weight behind political causes. The most glaring case in point deals with draft registration and student aid. When the government first announced that it would link the two several universities--including Yale--declared the act immoral and vowed to undermine it. Harvard white hinting that the move might be distasteful watched blankly through the protected legal proceedings. It is now a full month since the Supreme Court put the law into effect and no policy has been announced. One other example is investment ethics. While President Bok has long resisted demands for the injection of effective morality into the University's portfolio the Commonwealth of Massachusetts late last year voted to divest its pension fund from companies doing business in South Africa.
Now another political issue Harvard has punted in the past has returned to the national spotlight. This time University has an opportunity to show symbolically at least that it hopes to foster freedom. And unlike the two cases mentioned above it would cost nothing The Faculty Council should declare the third Monday in January a holiday commemorating slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King.
That proposal has been on the congressional agenda every year for the past 15 ever King was assassinated. The bill stalled every time reaching the House floor only once--in 1979--where it was quickly watered down and subsequently withdrawn. But last week it passed the lower house by an incredible 338 to 90 vote. Senate Majority leader Howard H Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) has promised to bring it straight to the Senate floor for debate when the legislators return vacation in September and Presidential aides have hinted that Ronald Reagan might give the measure his support.
THERE HAS of course been vigorous opposition Some congressmen raised the concern that giving federal workers another holiday would cost the nation some $200 million in lost "productivity" An aide to Rep William E. Dannemayer (R-Cal.) says his boss fought the bill for several reasons: that at a time of high unemployment, especially among Blacks, a day off from work was not the way to commemorate King, who argued stenuously for jobs that six of the nine federal holidays already in existence came about only after a majority of the states had passed them, whereas only 18 states currently acknowledge the event as a holiday; that King's namesake, Protestant leader Martin Luther, is honored on a Sunday and that would concern, one articulated by President Reagan, is that only one individual, George Washington that the move would "open the door to several federal holidays.
Such objections wilted, however, under the force of congressional conscience Several key representatives, including Rep. Jack Kemp (R.N.Y.) and Dan Lungern (R-Cal.) have reversed their previous antagonism and backed the logislation Kump explained that in his view there have been three great revolutions to maintain freedom in this country--the American revolution the civil war and the civil rights movement. The first two would not be complete without the third and it is only appropriate to honor the man who inspired and embodied the movement. Lungern noted in subcommittee that "because we have disagreements it sometimes appears that the whole subject (of civil rights) is debated and we forget about the fact that we are all committed" to basic human rights. A holiday in honor of King Lungern added would reaffirm that committment.
Harvard would do well to make that statement also Some minority students complain that the dearth of minority faculty staff and fellow students makes them feel uncomfortable in the classroom or in the locker room. Harvard's refusal to set up a Third World Center or to even put a simple line on the Freshman Week calendar for minority student events makes many feel that claims may not all be justified, but a University endorsement of fundamental civil rights, such as a King memorial holiday would symbolize, is certainly in order.
CURRENTLY Harvard has the ludicrous policy of making Martin Luther King's birthday a "half-holiday" meaning that academic exercises should cease after 1 p.m. on January 15. That has been a sham for two reasons. One is that few events, if any are ever scheduled in the afternoon anyway--especially during reading period--so the practical impact is minimal. The other is that, because of strenuously lukewarm endorsement, professor have had little remorse about setting up lectures or review sections on that day anyway. If Congress proceeds to pass the bill, Harvard should immediately follow suit. But even if the federal government fails to act, University officials should establish the memorial as soon as they reconvene in September to demonstrate that their commitment comes in the spirit, not just the letter, of the day.