A Tarnished Surface
SINCE SUMMER SCHOOL is only one week old, many of its enrolled visitors may still be held transfixed by the Harvard mystique. Oozing tradition and pristine walkways have swayed many to think this place is none other than the epitome of academic utopia. However, a look beyond the University's quaint brick buildings reveals a gaping hole Harvard cultivated in its polished surface this past year.
Most Harvard officials won't talk about it. Somewhat embarrassing, especially because it had to be revived after 10 years of dormancy, the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR) has been the subject of many Harvard demonstrations and dinner-table discussions during the month of May. Though many debate its role in the University, the CRR is a moot court created mainly to punish political protesters.
The controversy started after two anti-apartheid protests. Activists occupied the Harvard Corporation's headquarters at the end of April in protest of the University's investments in companies doing business in the white-minority-ruled state of South Africa. A little more than a week later, 200 anti-apartheid demonstrators barricaded a visiting South African diplomat in the Lowell House Junior Common Room for two hours.
Responding to these protests, the University reactivated the CRR. So far, charges to go before the court have been filed against 18 students who participated in the two activities. Three seniors will not get diplomas until their cases are heard by the CRR. The committee theoretically requires six students to serve on it, but undergraduates have refused to sit on the body.
The CRR is supposed to punish students who disrupt the "essential processes" of the University or violate the freedom of speech or the freedom of movement of other persons at the University, according to its founding document. However, as the historical record shows, the tribunal has served mainly to punish political radicals who gain a following worthy of being called a "movement."
THE CRR WAS FIRST CREATED during Harvard demonstrations against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Students took over University Hall several times and sponsored class boycotts during an era when student protests rocked U.S., European and Latin American campuses.
University-affiliates filed grievances with the CRR to bring activist students to trial. Subsequently, most of the students were given warnings, some were temporarily suspended, some expelled and others told never to show then faces at Harvard again.
The court was neither called back to life to punish students after a 1978 building takeover nor to try them for heckling U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger '38 at a speech last year. As far as Faculty legislation is concerned, these incidents certainly warranted CRR action. However, the University probably did not reinstitute the court after those two events because activists did not have an organized backing at the time.
Now activists oppossing Harvard's South African investment policy have garnered enough support from the student body and other American campuses to take symbolic protest action that may eventually lead to real change. The University, through the CRR, wants to apply brakes to the burgeoning movement.
Besides serving mainly to stifle Harvard protesters who choose to demonstrate with more than shouts and chants, the CRR is illegitimate for procedural reasons. Decisions made there cannot be appealed to another body, and the CRR does not make clear what type of evidence it will and will not allow.
The Administrative Board already exists as a disciplinary body. However, the College does not punish activists under this board because it would have to suffer more blame for its actions. Harvard takes full responsibility for Ad Board punishments because it is made up completely of administrators and senior tutors. But under CRR actions, responsibility is partially shifted from the University because students are intended to make up half the court. This makes it seem like activists get punished because their peers, rather than their elders, disapprove of their activity.
So, as you pass Harvard's shady havens and walk its marble staircases this summer remember that at least one anomaly lurks beneath a seemingly immaculate cover. Scratches, nicks and other tarnishes can be found in even the most polished surfaces.