Man of Crisis

Faculty Profile

John T. Dunlop--professor of Economics, arbitrator, industrial consultant, and ex-government official--is one of that new species of Harvard professor who is as at home in Washington as Cambridge, and can usually be found on his way from one to the other. He keeps up a full-time Washington office, travels 200,000 miles a year, and if he is a minute late for his lectures in Economics 181 (he is never more), the explanation is that he just got back from Indianapolis or Miami. Over the last five years, he has settled, almost alone, the disputes over union jurisdiction in America's atomic energy plants. He chairs a board which has settled over 2,000 similar conflicts in the construction industry. Between trips, Dunlop has set wage rates on the MTA and Northeast Airlines, and arbitrated similar industrial disputes almost every week.

The man behind this activity is five-ten and well built. His personal trademarks are a bow tie, a gleaming white shirt, and a guttural voice which rises with his intensity of expression until it approximates a squawk. Dunlop is basically a scholar and teacher, but he has an intense desire to merge the practical world with the academic. He likes to quote Whitehead: "It is the union of passionate interest in detailed facts with equal devotion to abstract generalization which forms the novelty in our present society."

In his Harvard world, Dunlop has made an intensive study of wages, written three books and numerous articles, heads the Trade Union program at the Business School, and teaches courses in collective bargaining and wage and price policy.

Dunlop adjusts to his double life with a blunt, plain spoken charm which can put both students and labor leaders at case. His students talk of his habit of referring to the biggest men in labor and management by their first names. The head of the AF of L is "George," the Secretary of Labor "Jim." At a beer party he threw for his class, one student asked him about the recent resignation of Secretary of Labor Martin Durkin.

"Oh, you mean Marty--why, I just talked to him last night . . ." and proceeded to discourse on Labor Department politics.


And the labor relations world is impressed by his professorial bent. He used to lose sleep worrying how his arbitration decisions would be accepted. "Now I just call 'em as I see 'em and walk away."

The most unusual aspect of Dunlop's rise to prominence has been its speed. He is not yet forty years old. Born in the Philippine Islands, the son of a missionary, he whipped through a couple of California colleges and went on to study economics in England. A friendship with Professor John K. Galbraith influenced him to come to the University. He gained a firm foothold in his academic world with a permanent appointment at the age of thirty--the youngest man in the field of the Social Sciences to get one. Six years before he had obtained his first government job, one of a string which, by last year, had encompassed the War Labor Board, Wage Adjustment Board, and the longest tenure of any public member (20 months) on the Wage Stabilization Board, one of the most controversial and important of President Truman's Cold War economic panels. Dunlop has been officially out of the government since last March, when he received a letter from President Eisenhower informing him he had resigned as of ten days before.

Surveying his two worlds, Dunlop sees one basic difference in outlook. "In a university," he says, "one professor doesn't particularly care what another one says. There's a sort of Senatorial courtesy, because professors don't have business relationships with each other. But when you go out and start messing around with people who have money interests in the decisions you make, they're going to take their knives out and hack you up."

Dunlop has his share of scars. He remembers the day in March, 1951, when he moved that the Wage Stabilization Board recommend a freeze of basic wage increases at ten percent, to stop the Korean inflation. When the motion passed, one of the labor members was so angry he stuck his fist through a plate glass window. Labor walked out on the board, Dunlop recalls, and its press denounced him as a tool of management. A year later, during the crippling steel strike, he voted to grant a union shop to the Basic Steel industry. For this he was blasted on the floor of Congress for being in the pay of the unions. Dunlop has a hard time explaining what it's like to be under the hostile glow of the public spotlight. "Unless you've had a blowtorch put down your throat," he says, "you don't know how it feels. Their whole national propaganda machine is focused on you. You're the s.o.b. who did it."

But a healing layer of time has grown between Dunlop and these disputes, and he is now on better terms with both parties. Philosophizing on his experiences, Dunlop has to admit that he thrives on crises, and thinks the world is better for them. "Most people are afraid of a crisis--they try to avoid it. But a crisis should be welcomed, for out of it peace is born."

So John Dunlop makes his way from crisis to crisis--settling strikes, setting wages, writing, negotiating, his phone ringing constantly, his briefcase stuffed with other peoples' problems. In his different worlds he lives a full life, and he has time left to try to effect a synthesis of parts of Harvard, labor, and management, in the interests of society.