Last week, as he looked out over Harvard Yard from atop the 20-foot high "Ivory Tower" erected to represent what activists call Harvard's isolation from the world, Damon A. Silver '86 blasted the University for its South African-related investments.
Surrounded by mock shanties and uniformed Harvard police, Silvers also told the University to turn its glance inward. In a soft, rich voice, the activist argued Harvard has drifted from its ideal of truth to become a repressive, secretive community.
In the list of seven demands he presented, Silvers called on the University to disband the disciplinary body which adjudicates cases stemming from political protests. He called the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, or "CRR," an arbitrary, unfair disciplinarian.
As Silvers lashed out against the CRR--the same committee which could punish protestors who engage in similar acts of civil disobedience--he addressed a small cluster of 150 protestors beside University Hall, where almost 17 years to the day, another act of en masse civil disobedience gave rise to the CRR.
In the tense, confrontational atmosphere which characterized the Vietnam era, 300 students seized control of University Hall in what they considered the most effective way to blast Harvard's support for the ROTC while protesting University expansion into Cambridge neighborhoods.
Harvard University and Cambridge Police raised their nightsticks to drive the protesters from University Hall less than 24 hours after they had entered. Students later called the administration-backed violence an illustration of the callousness they opposed. Speaking behind doors which are now locked and guarded when students rally in the Yard, one University Hall employee recently described the takeover as still affecting many of her colleagues' attitudes toward students.
As the Committee of 15 punished students for their part in that action, the disciplinary group drew fire as the lackey of a ruthless University. Harvard abolished the group, replacing it with the CRR.
As the University considers revamping the disciplinary group charged with adjudicating cases stemming from political protests, critics rap the CRR at open forums, at the Graduate Student Council, and in a 41-page Undergraduate Council report.
"I couldn't imagine students coming to any greater consensus than we have on this issue," CRR critic Robert Weissman '88 told faculty members and administrators reviewing the body.
Students attack what they call the CRR's lack of adequate due process procedures and its penchant for quashing political beliefs which the University considers disruptive. They pepper discussions with often-distorted references to those who stood before the group during the early 1970s.
In interviews during the past several weeks, administrators and current undergraduates who have seen the CRR in action call many of those criticisms unfounded. They say the polemics of the 1960s and early 1970s still color students' reactions to the CRR, blinding them to the group's built-in safeguards and the recent track-record.
"If I were designing, as a liberal, from scratch a group--a mechanism for protecting free speech--it would look a lot like the CRR," says Professor of Government and CRR member Robert Putnam.
But the Government Department chairman and other faculty members are not the only ones who call student objections to the CRR's procedures overplayed. When the CRR convened last spring for the first time in more than seven years to hear cases arising from South Africa-related protests, most of those charged refused to take part in its hearings. Several students who observed the CRR in action last summer say assaults against the body are not warranted.
"If students had no idea of past student impressions of the CRR and were just presented with the documents and records of the CRR, they would have no problems with the body," says Stuart A. Raphael '86, a student who observed the CRR's most recent proceedings.
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