Pusey's Strong Legacy
Former president should be remembered for his dedication to academic freedom
Under President Pusey, Harvard grew by leaps and bounds. Pusey was a tremendous builder, planning much of the basic infrastructure of today’s University. The Science Center, Hilles Library, Leverett Towers, Mather House, the Holyoke Center and the Loeb Drama Center are among the many buildings constructed during his tenure. Pusey’s fundraising allowed Harvard to raise its operating budget from $39 million to $188 million. The University was able to double the number of endowed chairs during his term. Harvard’s endowment mushroomed from $304 million to more than $1 billion under his guidance, setting the stage for the University’s future financial stability.
In addition, Pusey appointed many of the most able and visionary leaders in the University’s history. Former President Derek C. Bok, one of his appointees, praised Pusey yesterday for his “unwavering kindness, decency and thoughtfulness toward an inexperienced, struggling young dean.”
Pusey resurrected the Divinity School, recruiting prominent academics like former University Professor Paul Tillich and former Dean of the Divinity School Krister Stendhal, while attracting a $1 million donation to the school from John D. Rockefeller. His close confidant, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences McGeorge Bundy, was an active and influential voice on campus.
The student protests of the 1960s and the University Hall takeover were the most sensational moments of Pusey’s presidency, and they were also the most unfortunate. But these incidents are not Pusey’s legacy.
Pusey should instead be remembered for defending the right of universities to exist free from outside control. He assumed the presidency in a time of great suspicion about the motives of some of Harvard’s professors. “It’s a smelly mess,” Senator Joseph McCarthy said of Harvard in 1953. McCarthy accused Pusey of being a rabid anti-anti-communist leading a University that was a sanctuary for communists. In the face of these vehement attacks, Pusey staunchly defended universities as a place of academic freedom and diversity. Though he opposed allowing communists on the Faculty, arguing that they lacked the necessary independence of thought and judgment, he also believed that such decisions must be left to universities themselves, and not subjected to outside pressure. “It would be a sorry thing if in resisting totalitarianism we were to follow the counsels of the frightened and adopt its methods,” Pusey said in 1953.
Pusey presided for nearly two decades over Harvard. He had many successes, and was confronted with more than his share of turbulent episodes. But his legacy is secure as one of academic freedom and dedicated service, and for that, we commend him, thank him and remember him.