An Open Letter

(The letter below was given to the CRIMSON the evening of May 27, 1963, by Richard Alpert, whose appointment in Harvard University was terminated yesterday.) May 15, 1963

Dear President Pusey:

At our meeting last Tuesday, you advised me that you would bring the matter of the termination of my contract before the Corporation at its next meeting. This issue is not entirely separable from the views of the University toward our research in general. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to bring to the attention of you and the members of the Corporation some of the cogent matters associated with our work. By this means, I hope to prevent the broader issues from being totally submerged beneath the myriad lesser decisions (e.g., my contract) which have to date constituted Harvard's official "position" and expressed concern.

We have carried out our studies of psychedelic (mind-manifesting) materials at the University from the autumn of 1960 until the end of 1962, when the association of our research with Harvard was formally terminated. Consequently we organized I.F.I.F., through which we have continued our research activities. During the period when the research was affiliated with Harvard, we worked safely with over four hundred subjects in a series of studies at the Concord Reformatory, within the local religious community, and at the University. These studies explored the effects of altering states of consciousness on (1) the creative process, (2) the religious experience, (3) the rate of learning, (4) behavior change, (5) aesthetic experience, (6) interpersonal relations, and (7) flexibility of thought process. Some of our efforts have been directed toward the development of adequate models for conceptualization of these profound mind-manifesting experiences (very much in the tradition of William James). Our preliminary research, as well as studies pursued by others in the field, indicates that psychedelics are among the most powerful consciousness-altering substances known to man and certainly deserve our most serious and creative attention.

As you know, any research which has the potentiality of affecting the institutions of a culture does not long go unnoticed. Our research was debated by our colleagues, and investigated by both the state and federal governments in the spring of 1961. It was also the subject of controversial discussion at a leading international psychological convention in Copenhagen, where it received support from men such as Professor Henry Murray and Aldous Huxley.


Publicly, this research produced one of the major issues for news and editorial comment in the local press and has now come to the attention of the country's mass media (cf. Life, March 15, 1963; Time, March 29, 1963; the TV forum "Open End"--to be shown in the Boston area Sunday, May 26). It will continue to receive increasing attention in the months to come.

There are many indications to suggest that explorations with psychedelic materials promise to be among the most important and dramatic fields of investigation of the next decade. Research of the "inner space" of man's consciousness in the future may well parallel the explorations of the external world now under way.

Harvard University has been long considered a fearless leader in providing a climate of encouragement and support for historically significant exploration and discovery. We propose that research designed to study the use of psychedelic substances for man's growth and education is just such exploration. We urge you and the policy-making bodies of the University to review from both an immediate and historical perspective the public position into which Harvard has cast itself with regard to this research.

My main concern is not with the disposition of my contract, nor with the threats to my colleagues who have been involved with us in this research. As our work continues and comes increasingly to the public's attention, we shall all be in a better position to determine how wisely all of us have acted in the specifics of this controversy. Of much greater import is the stand taken by a leading university toward this new exploring of man's consciousness.

I am taking the liberty of sending copies of this letter, as well as the statement of purpose of I.F.I.F. to the members of the Corporation. To you and to the members, I wish both vision and wisdom in your deliberations.   Richard Alpert

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