The CRR: Whose Rights, Whose Responsibilities?
Two Decades of Discontent
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.
"I don't see it as a kangaroo court. I don't see it as some invidious attempt on the part of the administration to quell the divestiture movement," Raphael continues. According to Raphael and others familiar with the CRR, the body already incorporates many of the safeguards and checks its detractors seek.
Block and Take
Last year the University called on the CRR to investigate charges stemming from two South Africa-related protests: the blockade of a South African diplomat in Lowell House and the occupation of the 17 Quincy St. headquarters of Harvard's seven-man governing Corporation.
During its 15-year-history, the CRR has heard more than 370 complaints arising from 15 separate incidents, with all but the most recent pair of them occuring between 1969-1975. But since its inception students often have refused to take part in the group, calling the CRR the henchman of "a ruthless University."
Ellen J. Messing '72-'73, who refused to testify before the CRR several times, says students seldom participated in CRR hearings when she was an undergraduate. "At one point there was a mass movement to refuse to attend CRR hearings," says the civil rights lawyer. "The feeling was that [the committee] was a tool of the administration."
Today, students cite that feeling as justifying their protest of the body. The CRR exists to quash political debate and that is reason enough to protest, they say, and how it goes about punishing campus dissent is irrelevant.
"I chose not to deal with them because I decided it was not a valid body," says Michael C. Young '88, a defendant last year. "Since I refused to deal with them, I don't know I can comment on how they function," he continues.
But faculty members and administrators draw a firm line between the administration, which brings charges against students, and the faculty, which evaluates the charges with the CRR. The real objective for University disciplinary bodies, faculty members say, should be to escape the influence of administrators who police students, and who may have an interest in quashing protest movements which become disruptive. They say the CRR well satisfies that objective.
They say the faculty members who sit on the CRR--many of whom are tenured--can resist administration pressure to crack down on students.
"The CRR went so far out of its way to understand the student point of view, even when the students did not show up, that I'm still surprised," says Mark Friedell, CRR member and assistant professor of computer science. "One thing would be to say, 'All right, lets hear from the dean and that's it,' the other would be to go even further to consider the student view."
Currier House senior Raphael says the CRR tried to distance itself from the administration during last year's proceedings, remembering: "I got the sense there was every attempt to be impartial, wondering if Dean Epps had said something for a certain effect [for example]."
Raphael says the CRR's interpretation of charges against students underscores its effectiveness as a judge. He points to an instance when last year's group threw out charges against an undergraduate. "He was charged with obstructing the movement of the [South African] consul by standing in the doorway of the entryway," Raphael recalls.
"As it turns out, he was standing by the window and not the doorway," the CRR student observer says. "He obstructed the freedom of movement of the consul nonetheless, but the committee would not charge him because in fact, he was not guilty of the charge" Epps lodged.
One year after those investigations against 18 protesters began, students are still leveling a variety of complaints against the CRR. They charge it doesn't adequately ensure due process and can change its procedures whenever it chooses. Many also criticize the body for what they call its arbitrary jurisdiction, saying the body goes after students whenever a protest movement picks up steam.
Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 who heads the group investigating the CRR won't speculate on that group's likely recommendations. But individuals close to the CRR review confide that regardless of the CRR's value, it will certainly be changed in some way.
"Nowhere will you find guidelines for running the body," says Anthony A. Ball '86, who was charged in connection with both divestment protests last spring.
"[The CRR's] ignorance of its own rules bordered on comedy," states an Undergraduate Council report released in March.
John N. Ross '87, who was brought before the CRR for his involvement in the Lowell House blockage says the board has carte blanche to write its own rules whenever it chooses. "Legally, if the University wanted to, it could enpower [Dean] Epps to hear all cases and decide them," he adds.
"I don't know where that came from," Warren D. Goldfarb '69, a member of last year's CRR, says about the ability of the CRR to rewrite its rules arbitrarily. "We are bound by law to follow our procedures."
According to John R. Marquand, secretary to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the University would be liable to legal action if the CRR arbitrarily changed its procedures.
Asked to explain what could motivate students to hurl such a charge against the CRR, Professor of Philosophy Warren D. Goldfarb '69 says "bad memory."
Goldfarb, who came to Harvard as an undergraduate in 1965 and earned his Ph.D 10 years later, served on last year's CRR. He says today's students don't understand the tensions that rocked the campus when he studied here, and that the 15-year-old student boycott of the group has prevented actual knowledge of the CRR from influencing their views.
The legislation governing the CRR calls for six student representatives in addition to seven faculty members, one of whom is a non-voting chairman. Because students have refused to participate, however, the CRR adjudicates cases without student members. No student has sat on a CRR which heard a case in more than 15 years.
CRR members point to that boycott--and a lack of familiarity with the CRR which it has caused--as a source of student dissatisfaction.
Doomed From the Start
One member of the administration, former Dean of the College John B. Fox '59, says the current CRR is "nonviable." But Fox calls the body's due process procedures "entirely appropriate," and says, "students could appear before the CRR confident that their rights would be protected."
Fox, currently Administrative dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, says students are too strongly opposed to the CRR to allow the group to continue.
CRR reviewers say privately that the same small group of detractors have been present at public forums on the body or at other functions, but, according to the reviewers, student opposition has become so habitual that it probably can't be countered. They act as if it is time to stop struggling against student opinion and to try something different.
"Students feel if all the other students have said its a bad thing, its probably a bad thing," says Hugh McGuire '85, an observer of last year's proceedings.
"I don't have anything to do with [the CRR] and won't as long as it maintains connections with its history," explains one of those charged last year, Damon A. Silvers '86. "As long as the CRR remains the CRR, I cannot cope with it," continues Silvers, charging it "created a situation in the early years where people were afraid to politically protest."
"The problem is that it has been a witch-hunting body that has gone after people for political beliefs," says Thomas N. Crean '86, a Claverly Hall resident who was found guilty of misconduct for his participation in the Lowell House blockade. "The students who fought against the Vietnam war and against apartheid were right. The University has no right to go after them."
Asked what changes he would like to see come from the faculty's investigation of the CRR, Friedell responds: "The perception of how it works from the past is the thing the CRR suffers from. To tell you the truth, one of the things you could do for the CRR is change its name."