IF ONLY Tocqueville could have been there. The 19th century French theorist who warned against excessive democracy would have marveled at the spectacle of consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader leading some 200 Harvard students in a rally for more openness and inclusion in the University's presidential selection process.
America's love affair with democracy, which Tocqueville so brilliantly critiqued years ago, is still alive in its very birthplace. Just a block from where General Washington once marshaled colonial forces against King George III, General Nader was assembling a predictable cadre of student activists in revolt against the tyrannical rule of President Bok. Tories, beware.
At the rally earlier this month, Nader urged fellow revolutionaries to "break that vise of authoritarian control over the University." And while chastising the University's seven-member governing Corporation, rabble-rouser Tony McLean wondered, "How the hell can a so-called democratic institution like Harvard University consider the voices of 18,000 less important than that of seven?"
The answer is obvious. Harvard is not, nor has it ever claimed to be, a democracy. To question the consistency of Harvard's democratic ideals is tantamount to criticizing the military for its poor commitment to pacificism. How can we reproach the University for not adhering to principles that it never endorsed?
But what about the principles of Nader & Co.? Do they espouse democracy or just the imposition of their narrow agenda on the University? Using deceptive rhetoric about "openness" and "inclusion," speakers at Nader's rally seemed less like idealistic champions of educational democracy than partisan advocates of particular causes.
Make no mistake about it. "Student inclusion" are code words for student activism.
DEMOCRATIZERS at Harvard believe that governing bodies not elected by or composed of students are inherently unresponsive to their concerns. Therefore, the University should allow students to help select its leadership. Student participation in University governance, they argue, is not only just but also useful.
But it's hard to imagine how anyone within earshot of Harvard Yard has not already heard the protests, seen the fliers, or read the campus media's constant examination of student concerns.
And even if members of the search committee are deaf and blind to student opinions, their upcoming meeting with student representatives on November 18, as well as the letters they requested from students, should familiarize them with our interests.
Furthermore, what "democracy" advocates consider to be the University's current indifference to student interests is, in many cases, nothing more than a reasonable unwillingness to meet the sometimes unreasonable demands of campus activists over delicate issues like South African divestment and minority faculty recruitment.
Take the explosive controversy over Harvard's Afro-American Studies department, which, because of faculty departures, has been left with only one tenured professor. During a meeting with students in October (that Bok arranged), the administration rejected the unrealistic demands of Afro-Am concentrators that the University appoint six faculty by February.
Activists responded by staging a sit-in in Bok's office and later interrupting a Kennedy School forum at which he was speaking. (Remember, these are the same people clamoring for a more thoughtful democratic selection process).
The anger of Afro-Am concentrators is certainly understandable, and would have been justified had the administration been dragging its feet on serious reform. But just last year, it tried to lure three prominent Afro-Am scholars to Harvard with lucrative salary offers. When those offers were turned down, it authorized seven departments to conduct joint searches for potential Afro-Am faculty.
This is hardly the stuff of "unresponsive" and "authoritarian" regimes.
But nonetheless, student activists continue to berate President Bok. McLean asked the Nader crowd if "we want a president who thinks he is simply doing charity work to listen to student concerns?" Daniel Tabak, a member of the Undergraduate Council, joined in with his derisive comparison of Bok with Mr. Rogers, "another elderly white man who treats the people he's working with like children."