Memory of Takeover Still Haunts Those Students, Faculty Who Saw It Happen
When President Neil L. Rudenstine and Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles addressed the class, according to one audience member, the crowd saw "administrative bullshit" where other reunion classes had seen just welcoming pleasantries.
One indication that the two officials may not have been telling the whole truth was that the crowd reacted with a suspicious murmur not typical of 1,000 well-educated professionals in their late 40s.
"It took about 40 seconds for this crowd to turn on these guys," said Robert D. Luskin '69, a WHRB reporter in the spring of 1969. "Everybody experienced the same visceral reaction."
Thirty years now separates Harvard from the fateful spring day in 1969 when students stormed and occupied University Hall before being forcibly ejected by local police early the next morning.
No one chronicling the strike has ever aimed at objectivity--1997's Coming Apart by former Dunster House Senior Tutor and Master Roger Rosenblatt, the most recent work on the strike, primarily focused on his personal recollections.
This is likely because no two witnesses to the events of 1969 see them in the same way. But in the years since the strike and the "bust" brought activism home to Harvard, all say they have learned vivid lessons from the morning where a hundred things that could never have happened at Harvard suddenly did.
But a wave of student radicalism sparking riots and protests across the country could not be held back even by Harvard's formidable traditions. The campus was thrown into tumult by protests by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which gained momentum through 1969 to the April takeover of University Hall.
At different corners of the campus that spring were five people swept up by the events happening around them.
Richard E. Hyland '69 was only a prominent SDS member at the time of the takeover, but not involved in the leadership. Michael Kazin '72, the embattled SDS leader, asked him to preside over the building occupiers primarily because he was not involved with the internal SDS political wrangling.
Kenneth M. Glazier '69, who was a past president of the Student Faculty Advisory Committee (SFAC), had experience in subdued committee meetings but never in any sort of mass arena. And it was Glazier who ended up trying to create order during the morning-after Memorial Church meeting and ended up chairing the Memorial Church group.
Alan E. Heimert '49 had only been recently toiling away as a junior faculty member and had just received tenure as the Cabot Professor of American Literature, along with taking the reins of Eliot House in 1968 as its master. Heimert would lead the Committee of Fifteen, an administrative body which decided the fate of the most egregious offenders.
Jon D. Levenson '71 was a sophomore in Adams House at the time, and among a minority of students who did not support the ideas, let alone the tactics, of SDS. He even approved of the decision by Harvard President Nathan M. Pusey '28 to send in the local police.
Peter Wood was a graduate student, a teaching fellow and an assistant senior tutor in Eliot House. Part student, part faculty, and part administrator, he had to deal with all factions on campus regardless of his personal loyalties.
Thirty years later, the events of April 1969 still stir strong emotions. In some ways they are, as Rudenstine and Knowles found out, still angry.
A Radical Moderate
The next morning their resolve was tested when state and local police forcibly removed the students--"beating the shit" out of them in the process, he recalls.
His interaction with authority while at Harvard--both in University Hall and the classroom--inspired Hyland to enter academia himself.
"Harvard was universally regarded as a terrible teaching University," Hyland says now. "My students will have a teacher who they will remember. I want them to remember these classes 40 years later."
He says now he feels the actions of the building's occupiers--ostensibly about Harvard's involvement in America's war effort in Vietnam through its support of the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC)--were a worthwhile protest against a University out of touch with its students.
"I knew an awful lot of Harvard Faculty. I didn't run into anybody who was a role model for his students," Hyland says. "That was the Harvard we destroyed, and it was worth destroying."
Angry on the other side
Levenson felt that the SDS robbed him of his right to an education. He says the students delighted in more than the high-minded purpose of the their protest--they loved the excitement.
"It's a different view of things from the way it's usually presented," he says. "Lots of radicals deeply enjoyed the confrontations, it gave them a thrill in shutting down the University."
Levenson says that though the bust was perhaps more violent than necessary, he also understood the administration's reaction.
"At the time they seemed very lenient to me," Levenson says. "Relative to the number of people involved, there seem to be very few who were punished."
Levenson, now employed by the administration he supported in 1969, has if anything only hardened his views towards student protestors in the 30 years since the bust.
"I myself have not really changed my position," he says. "I suppose at that point, I was anti the anti-war movement. They were self-indulgent, simple-minded, acting out neurotic stuff in their lives."
"It lowered my estimate of the moral courage of most people in academia," Levenson said. "It left me with a sense of fragility in academic life in times of political discord."
A Delicate balance
While Glazier became involved in the Phillips Brooks House Association immediately after graduation, traveling to Africa, he now works as a lawyer in California. He says trying to find a middle ground in 1969 left him with a distrust of any radicals.
"The more sure people are of their positions, the more suspicious I become," he says.
Much of his work as a lawyer now centers on mediation.
"It was a pretty sobering experience to see how furiously uprighteous they were," he says of student radicals. "It had a significance of course on me; something that powerful doesn't pass."
Having served as president of a student-Faculty committee which attempted to head off anti-war controversy before the takeover, Glazier said he was permanently disillusioned by the Harvard Corporation's refusal to listen to the Faculty suggestions on ROTC.
"The Faculty was told on this really burning issue to go fly a kite and that the captains of industry were going to come in and decide," he says. "There was a sense of arrogance and we know what is good for the students."
Men in the middle
'"I think probably I would have been on the lenient side," Wood says. "I was conscious of the point that the perspective of the students was not being adequately presented at the national level."
Now a full-time history professor at Duke University, Wood says the events of 1969 helped him gain an appreciation for what passion can do for education.
"Because of that experience in 1969, I know that there can be a moment of tremendous energy and learning when they debate issues and pay attention," he says.
He says the lack of real student activism or concern with current events at modern universities is an unhealthy sign--the stimulating debate that ran off its tracks in 1969 is, he says, an essential part of the university experience.
"We seem to oscillate as a society between times of apathy and self-centered ignorance, and times of hyper energized activism, sometimes bordering on thoughtless" Wood says. "Even with Kosovo in the wings, we're in the more apathetic mode. I wish students were more motivated, concerned."
Faculty Under Fire
"It burned up so much of my time and energy that I didn't write books. This led my colleagues and the professional administration to wonder if my professional credentials were dubious," Heimert says.
Heimert says he even believes that the aftermath permanently affected his professional career.
He also was witness to its profound effect on the faculty as a whole and the administrative response to student demands.
He says he immediately saw a distancing of the Faculty in their desire to interact with students because they they were ostracized.
"A House became increasingly difficult to run after the uprising--faculty members did not want to come down for lunch anymore because for two to three months they were demonized," he says.
Still, the damage caused by 1969 led him to rededicate himself to undergraduate teaching. Heimert's efforts have paid off--he was awarded the Levenson Award for undergraduate teaching excellence.
Yet, even for Heimert, who believes the "student revolution" accomplished little, he believes the spirit of 1969 was well-placed.
"There was a certain incandescence in that period, that after the revolution never returned and became the tunnel-vision careerists we have now who ask during freshman registration, 'Which way to the pre-law tutor?" he says.
Changing the World
And for many of this activist generation, there is an important sense that 1969 is still an important lesson--it is not so much history as much as it is a constant and personal guide to their current lives.
At an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bust in 1989, speaker Dale E. Fink '71-'72 summed up as well as could be hoped the confused and powerful set of feelings that 1969 still conjures up in those who were at Harvard then.
"We're here to commemorate those victories and to affirm...those events are still meaningful for us and those are the values we still live by," Fink said. "We did not come here for nostalgia."