After 20 Years of Harvard Protests, The Lawyer Behind the Lawyer to Step Down
Daniel Steiner '54
But ending the fray is as much about staying out of the fray, explained one top Harvard official recently. If the Bok administration is remembered for its mediation skills, much of the credit, many say, must go to the lawyer behind the lawyer.
Known by friends and student activists alike as "Dan Steiner," Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Steiner '54 has been Bok's "principal and most trusted advisor on student protest" for more than 20 years, says the outgoing president.
And sharing counsel with Bok, Steiner has also shared some of his flak. Over the years, the general counsel has more than once been singled out by demonstrators as an opponent. Most notably, he is featured in the South African divestment chant, "Dan Steiner, get the word! This is not Johannesburg!"
Such attention, he says, has not bothered him. Steiner dismisses the accusations implicit in such chants--that he or Bok or Harvard is acting to help the apartheid government--as "pretty silly."
Bok has for the most part maintained a smooth political image, compared to his predecessor, Nathan M. Pusey '28, who is often remembered for sending Cambridge police clad in riot gear to forcibly eject protesters occupying University Hall in 1969. Since then, under Steiner's counsel, the Harvard administration has learned a thing or two about protests and public relations.
Explains Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, "As a general rule about protests, you don't let the president make the first decision, because then you're stuck with it." Instead, Epps says, you delegate.
Epps recalls the time that pro-divestment student protesters erected shanties in Harvard Yard in 1986. Bok sent Steiner to meet with Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57, Epps and police officials, and the group decided to leave the shanties standing, pending negotiations with the protesters. Several months later, the students agreed to remove the shanties.
At Yale University the same year, Epps says, then-president A. Bartlett Giamatti reacted more impulsively--and personally--to student-erected shanties. He ordered them removed immediately, setting off highly-charged demonstrations in which large numbers of students were arrested.
"I think it's a mistake for the president to get too intimately involved in a lot of these things," Steiner says. When the administration's Mass Hall offices were occupied in 1971, Steiner recalls, Bok went on a trip that had been scheduled, though he kept in touch by phone.
More recently, Harvard police arrested 12 men on charges of "open and gross lewdness" in a Science Center bathroom in January 1990. Attributing these arrests to homophobia and intolerance, gay student groups took action. They called Steiner.
"We found him to be very concerned," says Chad S. Johnson '89, who attended the meeting. "He seemed quite receptive...It was obvious that he was making an effort to understand our concerns."
Steiner helped to organize a joint police-community committee of students, staff members and police officers that would discuss issues relating to gay and lesbian treatment in law enforcement. In recent months, committee members have held a number of "sit-down" meetings to talk with police officers, and Johnson says he believes that if more arrests take place, they will likely be handled in a very different manner.
Harvard Police Chief Paul E. Johnson says that one of Steiner's most important roles in supervising the University's police department is to act as an intermediary in cases like this.
It is Steiner's responsibility to uphold the enforcement of the law, while at the same time attempting to address the concerns of students, the police chief says. "And that's not an easy position to be in sometimes," he says.
The police department, however, is only one of the many University domains that Steiner has overseen since he was appointed general counsel in 1970 by then-President Pusey.
As the University's chief legal advisor and one of its top administrators, since then Steiner has worked on a broad range of topics, including federal investigations, dental benefit programs and conflict-of-interest policies.
In fact, Steiner, 57, who announced last month that he plans to step down from his post at the end of the 1991-92 academic year, says he thinks it is quite likely that his has been "one of the best legal jobs in the country."
"There's a tremendous range of interesting problems," he says.
Although the nature of his legal work has not changed considerably over the years, Steiner's administrative responsibilities have shifted and expanded.
For a number of years, Steiner, who has held the title of vice president since 1982, was in charge of employee relations and personnel. He subsequently supervised Harvard Real Estate for several years.
He has also played a key role in setting University policy on a number of controversial issues, including relations with U.S. intelligence agencies and scientific misconduct regulations.
And the general counsel's office has grown substantially during Steiner's tenure here, from one lawyer to 12. This group, which has been at times compared in expertise to a professional urban law firm, now does almost all of the work that used to go to outside specialists.
Steiner notes that the University's relationship with the federal government has changed significantly during his time here, saying, "We're much more highly regulated now than we were 20 years ago."
In the last two decades, Steiner points out, the federal government has passed scores of new laws regulating health and safety rules, discrimination, security, drugs, alcohol and taxes at American universities.
Steiner and his staff have also worked with other University officials in handling the numerous lengthy federal investigations that Harvard has undergone in recent years.
"We [in the general counsel's office] do try to make certain that the University acts both in accordance with the law and in some higher sense, in a moral way; in a range of problems," he says."
Vice President for Finance Robert H. Scott describes Steiner as a conscientious investigator and thoughtful problem-solver, particularly in the area of federal investigations. He does more than merely defend the University, Scott says, he tries to understand and solve its problems.
Sense of Purpose
Steiner has watched the University grow in size and complexity over the last two decades. And though Harvard has changed positively in many ways, Steiner says, its expansion has not been "entirely a good thing."
Steiner says he thinks that the community has gradually become more scattered and less cohesive. "I think there's been some loss of a shared sense of purpose, of shared values at the University," he says.
And although Steiner says that Harvard is in many ways better administered now than it was 20 years ago, he believes that "increased bureaucracy has made the place a colder and more institutionalized place."
Steiner says that the new president will probably need to make some structural changes in the administration. "The University has changed a lot in 20 years," he says. "It's probably too large and too diverse and too complex [for the present system] to work much longer...It worked better in the earlier years."
"The present structures are well designed for separate administration of different parts of the University, but not for developing common goals and working to achieve them," he says. "I think that there's a need for better structures to bring the faculties and the central administration together in different ways."
Steiner's concern that the University may become too much of a cold bureaucracy, his colleagues say, is reflected in his work. Despite his mediation skills, Dan Steiner the lawyer makes an effort to get beyond administrative red tape.
"He realizes the tremendous importance of human values, and does his job in a simple, straightforward, direct way that minimizes the pernicious effects of administration," says Scott. "He has tried very hard not to overlawyer the place."
Steiner says he came to his job as general counsel in 1970 by "total luck." A graduate of the College and the Law School, he had returned to Harvard the previous year to serve as a staff member for a faculty-student-alumni committee on University governance, after several years spent working for the federal government.
In Washington D.C., Steiner served as chief of legislative programs for the State Department's Agency for International Development and then as general counsel and staff director for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Explaining why he took the job at Harvard, Steiner says, "Mr. Nixon got elected president, so I knew I was going to be bounced from my job." And while he was working for the committee, the Corporation decided to create the position of general counsel. "Fortunately it was before the days of national searches," he jokes. "And there I was."
Steiner was born in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. and grew up in New York City where he attended Columbia Grammar School. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he played freshman basketball and, later, house intramurals.
He was active in Philips Brooks House and the Signet Society, a private undergraduate social club, and currently sits on the graduate boards of both organizations. In 1972, Steiner served as acting master of Eliot House, to which he belonged as an undergraduate.
Steiner says he does not yet know what he will do after he leaves Harvard. "I'm just going to look around and see what would be interesting and useful," he says. "I'd like to do something that would be of some use to society."
Pause. "I like to think that my work at Harvard has been of marginal use to society," Steiner says, smiling.
When President Derek C. Bok took office in 1971, many hoped he would bring calm to a strife-torn campus. And when he leaves this spring, many will say he succeeded.