By virtue of its strategic location in the city, its huge physical properties, and its universal renown, Harvard has often been involved in political attacks similar to the one which has marked the current campaign in Cambridge. Culminating in an open attack on Harvard's existence as a part of this municipality, such action is at least several steps beyond the traditional point to which differences between town and gown have been carried heretofore. Practically without exception, the vulnerable point in the University's armor seems to be some statement or action by teacher or student which is taken up as the battle-cry of the opposition and as the focal premise for an attack. The doctrine of Harvard in this respect has been one of academic freedom, which has been taken to include complete political freedom as well. This is the trouble center. Teachers should be free to teach from an unbiased and unhampered viewpoint. But they must remember that they can never be dissociated from the name of Harvard in the public eye.
Recently, the "red menace" at Harvard has been widely exploited. The existence of a group of Young Communists here, the appointment of Mr. Hicks, and the propensity of students to satirize political dictatorship have all been convenient hooks on which political opponents can string their case. Their attack is not really against individuals. It is always Harvard's name which is headlined. They claim that Harvard gives its approval to such "radicals" by allowing them as teachers and as students, and in a literal sense they are correct, although Harvard cannot, technically speaking, be held responsible for the outside activities of its sons.
Just as these embers were beginning to glow less brightly the Harvard attackers found a new brand with which to keep the fire blazing. Plan E, their latest point of offensive, struck essentially at local political rule, and since Harvard men were prominent in its organization, a direct connection with the University was made possible. The political cannon trained their muzzles on Plan E, and finding the range to be the same as that of Harvard, banged away all the more happily in that knowledge. The result has been such a cloud of ill will between Cambridge and Harvard that the real objective--Plan E--has been completely obscured. The sole recrimination against the alleged Harvard participation in Plan E activities which is now causing the University any concern is the tax question. The other proposals can probably be labeled as political folderol.
If Harvard continues to ignore the foes in the wooden horse, as it has done in so far as possible to date, the danger is slight, and Election Day should bring at best an armistice between town and gown; at worst, the temporary defeat of Plan E. But Harvard must always be prepared for political assault of this kind so long as its "academic freedom" includes complete freedom of political thought to its teachers and students, and as long as Harvard's name is bigger news than most individuals'. As a progressive ideal in education, this privilege, extended to teachers like Dean Landis and to Granville Hicks as a historian, is worth a great deal of ignorant and temporary malignment. But complete political freedom for its teachers is becoming increasingly embarrassing for this University, which must thus smile condoningly on all doctrines--no matter what "ism" is represented. After the lesson in public relations it has been taught in the last few weeks, Harvard might now find it expedient to demand some greater measure of tact, timeliness, and sober consideration from its representatives in political matters. It is not a gag which is necessary, but a more careful tone of voice, for complete political freedom is an idyllic and troublesome standard for Harvard in a city which takes such a literal interpretation of a liberal educational creed as does Cambridge.