Yard Watches Students Seize University Hall

New Roger Rosenblatt Book Offers Administrative Perspective on 1969 Anti-War Takeover, Beatings

The ringing of the Memorial Church bells has reverberated through neighboring University Hall for as long as anyone can remember.

On April 9, 1969, the midday chimes were accompanied by an act that shook the foundations of the University itself before the eyes of the class of '72.

At noon that day, 100 members and supporters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) entered University Hall.

By 12:45 the students had removed all administrators from the building, some forcibly.

At 4:30, the administration ordered the gates to Harvard Yard to be locked.

Just before 5 a.m. the next morning, more than 400 police officers entered the Yard at the request of University President Nathan M. Pusey '28.

The police rushed through the Yard, clearing the outside of University Hall of protesters and pursuing students into nearby Thayer Hall.

At 5:05 a.m., the police entered University Hall and began to beat the students within.

As many as 75 students were injured in the bust, which sent 40 students to University Health Services and local hospitals.

By 5:15, the police had successfully cleared the building and loaded the students into police vehicles. They arrested between 250 and 300 students. By 6 a.m., the officers were gone.

That afternoon, 2,000 moderate students voted for a three-day student strike to protest the use of police force.

Four days later, between 10,000 and 12,000 students met at Harvard Stadium to ratify the strike and back a list of demands similar to those proposed by SDS during the takeover. Demands included the abolition of Harvard's participation in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program, and an end to the expansion of University facilities into poor neighborhoods.

On April 18, a mass meeting of 3,500 students voted to end the strike.

On June 9, the Faculty, acting on the recommendation of the Committee of Fifteen--a group formed to investigate the takeover--dismissed three students, separated or required 13 others to withdraw, gave 20 suspended suspensions and placed 99 on warning.

Earlier this year, Roger Rosenblatt published Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969.

Rosenblatt, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1968, was the senior tutor in Dunster House at the time of the takeover and a member of the Committee of Fifteen.

He eventually became the master of Dunster House, as the youngest person ever to be a house master, and was on the short list as a possible successor of Pusey, all before Rosenblatt's 29th birthday.

When the dust had cleared, and he had not received tenure in the English department, Rosenblatt left Harvard to become a writer.

In his book, Rosenblatt paints a picture of a fractured student body and faculty.

A vote taken outside University Hall at 1 p.m. on the day of the takeover found the majority of students opposed to the takeover. Two hours later, some students burned an effigy of an SDS member.

"Most of the students were just against attacking the University in this way," Rosenblatt says in a recent interview from New York.

Several members of the Class of 1972, who were first-years at the time of the takeover, echoed Rosenblatt's assessment of the division.

"I didn't personally approve of the takeover, and I don't think most of the people I knew approved of it at all," says John W. Gorman '72, who was a member of the Institute of Politics' Student Advisory Committee during his college years.

Still, by 4 p.m. on April 9, the ranks within University Hall had swelled to as many as 350 from the original 100.

Some of the 1972 graduates thought the student body supported SDS's motives, but not its methods.

"I think most of us felt that the students had a right to protest," says Leif R. Rosenberger '72, now a professor of economics at the U.S. Army War College. "I wasn't prepared to shut the school down as a means of protest."

Barbara Slavin '72, a member of SDS who occupied University Hall, says that many people questioned the manner in which the students staged the takeover.

"Many people, although they sympathized with the goals of the takeover, did not approve of the tactics," she says.

Rosenblatt displayed no such equivocation in his disapproval of Pusey's decision to call in the police, a choice which he said swung student opinion in favor of SDS.

"I think it was absolutely wrong," he says. "I thought it was wrong then and now."

In his book, Rosenblatt argues that the bust afforded the local police the opportunity to take out on the students long-standing aggressions against Harvard.

"The simmering feelings of the local police about Harvard should have been taken into account," Rosenblatt says.

Members of the Class of 1972 also denounced Pusey's decision and the resultant violent actions of the police.

"I thought it was horrific, and it ruined the rest of his presidency," Slavin says.

Vickie A. Charlton '72, the first female stage manager of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, says of the police, "They sort of looked like gladiators."

Not all 1972 graduates completely fault Pusey, however.

"I think at the time I probably approved of calling in the police," says Gorman, who also adds he believed the police used excessive force.

Beyond the details of April 1969, Rosenblatt says he felt the takeover, bust and ensuing University-wide havoc left an indelible mark on the University.

"I was amazed 30 years later at how impassioned and how bitter the feelings of some of the Faculty were," he says. "For another 20 years, at least, this is going to rank as the major cataclysm in Harvard history."

Arthur S. Brisbane '72, now editor of the Kansas City Star, agrees, saying the takeover had a definite impact on Harvard students.

"It certainly set the tone for my years at Harvard," he says. "The tone while I was here was damn near chaos."

"The effect of that was to kind of move people off track into non-academic interests," says Brisbane, who spent much of his time playing in rock bands.

Gorman has a different perspective, seeing life as being relatively normal after the debacle.

"People were far more interested in education than politics," he says.

For Rosenblatt at least, the spring of 1969 was a pivotal time in his life. "It was a moment of total change," he says.

In his book, Rosenblatt explains that the disruptions convinced him that academic life was not for him and that he should instead follow his dream of becoming a writer.

Slavin also pursued a career in writing after leaving Harvard.

She says the turmoil convinced her to abandon the ivory tower.

"I felt that the real world was very much outside and that Harvard was this artificial, elitist place," Slavin says.

For some, however, the effects were nonexistent.

"In the long run, it didn't mean anything," Gorman says.