Showdown at University Hall

Two weeks ago I got a peek, brief but profound, at the intimate workings of Harvard University at the heart of its generative core, University Hall. Like most of my experiences at Harvard, this one began with a rejection. Over the past few years I have acquired the habit of submitting essays to the Bowdoin Prize Essay Contest for Undergraduates. I no longer do it because I have any serious hope of winning: It has just become a habit, maybe even an addiction.

On April 6 at 4:54 p.m. when I rushed from Gnomon Copy to University Hall to submit the required evidence of my intellectual inferiority--five copies of my essay--that will eventually be used to dismiss me from consideration, I could hardly have expected what came to pass. I charged up the steps of University Hall in my characteristic race against time to meet the 5 p.m. deadline. A man and woman halted my advance.

"University Hall is closed," they said.

"What!?"

"Living wage rally. They're not letting any students into the building."

I was dumbfounded. I had spent the last 12 hours fine-tuning an essay for a contest that now, it seemed, I wasn't going to be allowed to enter. This must have been the fastest rejection from the Bowdoin Prize Essay Contest in its history. I didn't see any demonstrators.

"What living wage rally?" I asked.

They pointed across Harvard Yard to a crowd of subdued students carrying posters and placards, quietly clustered around President Neil L. Rudenstine's office in Massachusetts Hall. All of a sudden I saw the logic. They thought that I was a spy sent from across the Yard to infiltrate the University's administrative headquarters and carry some hapless administrator down the stairs in a commemoration of the "Harvard riots" of 1969.