Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Talks Justice, Civic Engagement at Radcliffe Day


Church Says It Did Not Authorize ‘People’s Commencement’ Protest After Harvard Graduation Walkout


‘Welcome to the Battlefield’: Maria Ressa Talks Tech, Fascism in Harvard Commencement Address


In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises


Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

The Rise and Fall of Howie Phillips

By Ellen Lake

The present Harvard Council for Undergraduate Affairs was born almost by accident. Its establishment, in the fall of 1961, snowballed from events which began nearly half a year before. At first, no one intended to create a new student organization.

At the center of the snowball was Howard J. (Howie) Phillips '62, president of the then extant Student Council, a 32-member version of the present 24-man HCUA. Phillips was the epitome of the student politician. Besides his post in the Student Council, he was a bigwig in the Harvard Young Republicans, college chairman of the Massachusetts Young Republicans, a founder of the Young Americans for Freedom, and head of the Youth for Nixon-Lodge in Massachusetts for the 1960 campaign. Several months before, Phillips had spoken at the fifth anniversary dinner of the National Review. One CRIMSON article on him chided, "It would take several columns to list the various posts he has held in the Conservative Republican movement in America. More than a few Council members wish that the Council's list of achievements were half as long."


From the beginning, Phillips' vocal conservatism won public attention. Time magazine cited his election as an indication of rampant conservatism sweeping the Harvard campus. Not suprisingly, the National Review found it encouraging that a conservative led Harvard's student council. Thus far, the publicity was just accidental; no one could blame Phillips for being newsworthy.

But the situation soon changed. At a National Conference of Youth Service Abroad, called to elicit student opinion on the idea of a Peace Corps, Phillips' name and Council office appeared on the letter head of the Committe for an Effective Peace Corps, a Phillips-conceived organization which demanded that all potential peace corps personnel have no Communist leanings. He advocated that each applicant undergo an FBI security check, sign a loyalty oath swearing to support the Constitution, and receive an indoctrination in US government policy.

Storm Breaks

At this point, the storm broke. A hasty council of war, called by Phillips' foes, met through the night of April 16. By dawn, the group, led by Michael Hornblow '62 had decided to petition the Council for a constitutional change which would bar the President and vice-President of the Council from holding office in "or acting as a spokesman "for any partisan organization.

The resolution was not intended as a personal attack on Phillips, but was designed to prevent the views of the Council president from being taken as representing the views of the Harvard student body. But many elements of the College gleefully joined the fun, thinking that at last Howie could be pricked where it hurt. If approved, the measure would have forced Phillips to choose between his two chief loves--Republicans and the Council. The leaders of the HYRC who had just lost to Phillips in a bitter power struggle carefully avoided public connection with the movement, but nonetheless put their weight behind it.

At the council meeting the next day, the vote was 19-17 in favor of the amendment; but since a 2/3 majority was required, the amendment was defeated. Immediately after the vote, Phillips sensed the next move--a censure. Asking some of his supporters to leave, he adjourned the meeting for lack of a quorum.

Throughout the next week, Phillips' foes began to work in earnest for a censure. By the next meeting, though, tempers had calmed, Phillips had tightened the joints of his machine, and the Council settled for an expression of "strong disapproval" of its President. In effect, the Council was saying that it was tired of being known as an ultra-conservative group.

Things had just begun to quiet down when William E. Bailey '62, chairman of the Dunster House Committee, decided that he could "wait no longer" for the Council to get moving again. In fact, he decided, the Council would never get moving properly. To dramatize his dissatisfaction, he proposed that Dunster House secede from the Council. A whopping 82 per cent of the House backed him up, and the beginning of the dissolution of the government had begun. In a second referendum, the Dunster students asked that the Council be replaced by an inter-House council, chosen by the Houses and House committees, whose members would be "more representative of student interests and student activities."

Turning Point

The Dunster withdrawal marked a turning point in the saga; for the first time, students were proposing that the Council itself, not simply its President, be reformed. While attacking the Dunster secession, Phillips admitted that some changes were necessary. The Council began an agonizing reappraisal of itself.

Two plans of re-organization emerged. One, the official Phillips-Council plan, recommended retaining the Council, but enlarging its membership to include the presidents of all undergraduate organizations and five members of each of the three upper classes. The other, recommended by Dunster House and endorsed by Dean Monro, advocated abolition of the Council and a reformation under the name of Student Affairs Committee. The new group would be made up of two representatives from each House and three from the freshman class.

The two plans differed mainly in their conceptions of the functions and power of a future student government. The official plan aimed to boost prestige by giving the Council a much more extensive part in College affairs. Its backers declared that the "Council should be as effective a spokesman for the student body as possible." Backers of the Dunster plan, on the other hand, were extremely suspicious of any Constitution implying that the Council represented undergraduates in anything. They argued that only a cutback in prevent another Howie Phillips.

Meanwhile, Phillips was not through with personal controversy. A few days later, he was quoted by the CRIMSON as charging Dean Monro with "partisanship" in supporting the Dunster reorganization plan. Another Phillips backer called Monro's attitude "highly unethical for a member of the Administration." Although Phillips later denied having made the statement, it did not help his already low stock.

The Council met and ended the disagreement over re-organization by authorizing a committee of outstanding Council members and House Committee chairmen to write a new constitution, to be approved by student referendum in the fall. The committee had only three instructions--to plan a Council with functions somewhat more limited than the existing organization; to limit the membership to 22, which would include one man elected at large from each House, one man selected by each House Committee, and four freshmen; and to find a way to use non-Council talent. The Dunster plan had triumphed.

The following November, the Council approved the new constition proposed by the Committee on Re-organization. The new plan still said the purpose of the organization was to represent student opinion and influence Administrative decisions. But other changes clearly reflected a desire to limit and decentralize the power of the new council.,

Titles Changed

Symbolically, the titles of President and vice-President were changed to chairman and vice-chairman to avoid connotations of governing power. In addition, the bulk of the work was divided between three standing committees--Executive, Elections, and Combined Charities. The committee system, according to one student, was "an attempt to avoid the evils of putting too much power in one person's hands." Membership in the organizations was set at 21 students, to be chosen by House elections and House Committees.

The only really controversial issue was the name for the new organization. Supporters of the old Council wanted to keep the traditional "Student Council," but those who had opposed the Student Council's power advocated "Harvard Council for Undergraduate Affairs" to avoid the "usual student government connotations of 'student council' or the memory of Howie Phillips." Finally, the decision on name was left up to the students.

In December, the constitution was presented in a referendum to the entire student body and was handily passed. Eighty-five percent of the students voting backed the new plan, and the Harvard Council for Undergraduate Affairs was born. It was, however, a prophetic indication of the interest in the new organization that less than one-third of the students voted.

The irony of the whole story is that the person who set off the controversy which culminated in the new constitution had meanwhile fallen from view. During the summer of 1961, Howie Phillips resigned as president of the Student Council because he was on academic probation. At the Young Republicans' National Federation in June, he ran third out of three candidates for the three candidates for the office of national chairman. Later at the annual meeting of the National Student Association, Phillips and other conservatives were unable so make a significant dent in NSA's stubborn liberalism.

One cannot help wondering whether, if Phillips' grades and prestige had fallen one year earlier, the HCUA would be just beginning, instead of just ending, and we would be one revolution behind in the eternal cycle of the rise and fall of student governments at Harvard

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.