PRESIDENT DEREK C. BOK has revealed his extensive involvement in the offensive and patronizing letter sent to all alumni about this year's Board of Overseers election.
The letter, which was signed by Board of Overseers President Joan T. Bok '51 (no relation), asked alumni not to vote for single-issue candidates, specifically the trio of alums running on a pro-divestment platform. The letter came in the same package as the ballots for the Board and constituted blatant electioneering.
While Joan Bok took a lot of flak for writing the attack on three alumni running for that governing body on a pro-divestment platform, Derek Bok never revealed that he was the one who asked her to write it.
Sending the letter was an act of poor judgement, indicating the University's lack of respect for the opinions of its alumni. But Derek Bok's involvement in the affair raises other serious questions as well. When the president of the University transcends his mandate to influence the nominally democratic elections of the board charged with overseeing his activities, he demonstrates the fallacy of Harvard's claim to openness.
By charter, the Board of Overseers should review major decision of the University, including, if so chosen, its investment policy. If the board fails to review such matters or if the president sees to it that they don't by controlling the character of its members, then we must question whether students, faculty and alumni have any say at all in the policies of the University they attend, work for and support.
Along these lines, it is additionally disconcerting that Derek Bok, already having abused his power as president, was not forthcoming in admitting his involvement in the matter. He made several different statements throughout the month-long period that this controversy raged. Joan Bok also refused to explicate her role in the matter, admitting that Derek Bok had asked her to write the letter only after she told angry Overseers in a closed meeting. The close-door atmosphere in which the University administration operates only compounds concerns of fairness and openness.
We hope we now have the full story of the letter and those involved in preparing it. But Bok and the Harvard administration's attitude toward the entire campaign for the board by these three alumni hardly leaves us with much confidence in the University's concern for the Harvard community.
THE MAJORITY that two weeks ago called on Overseers President Joan T. Bok '51 to resign because of her now infamous act of electioneering today applies a disturbing double standard to the president of the University. President Derek C. Bok has betrayed the respect and trust of the Harvard community, and for that he ought to resign.
Harvard should hold no one to a higher ethical test than its leader, and in a University that values truth and democracy, President Bok has violated both.
First, President Bok conspired to influence the character of the Board of Overseers, an independent governing body which represents the Harvard alumni and theoretically maintains a check on his own authority to mold Harvard policy. President Bok, who has long opposed divestment from firms operating in South Africa, sought to discourage alumni from voting for three Overseers candidates running on a divestment platform.
Next, Bok called upon Overseers President Joan Bok to do his bidding. The letter, which was dictated from Massachusetts Hall, went out over her signature. In Derek Bok's words, he "was persuaded that it would be more appropriate if such a letter came from a member of the Board."
And subsequently, when Joan Bok became an object of general opprobrium, Derek Bok permitted her to take the brunt of the criticism. The president passed up repeated opportunities to describe his role in the affair and assume full responsibility. It was not until Joan Bok privately pointed a finger at him and a reporter confronted him with the story that the truth was told.
The president began by tampering with one of Harvard's only democratic institutions in order to exclude an unfriendly opinion. Given the seriousness of the offense, his attempt to maintain his distance from it is not surprising. It was at best a glaring moral lapse, at worst, a crude calculation.
Either way, the sad saga of Lettergate should disqualify Derek Bok from Harvard's highest office.