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Profile John Dunlop

By Thomas Geoghegan

VARIOUS STORIES have clustered around John Dunlop, the David Welles Professor of Political Economy. According to one, he tells time by the Boston Washington flight table ("Ten after eleven-hmmm, a plane left for Washington ten minutes ago."). Another story has it that his Rambler, a dilapidated antique, is driven only to Logan Airport and back. And he works twenty-four hours a day. These Dunlop stories capture the energy, but miss the man's complexity: the intellectual and toughguy negotiator, the compromiser and cautious advocate.

Almost a celebrity in the profession of labor mediation, Dunlop receives constant invitations to mediate disputes all over the country. He specializes in "hot-tempered" industries such as construction and transportation which suffer frequent labor crises. The Secretary of Labor or the Governor of New York may ring him several times a morning for help on their emergencies. The President recently named Dunlop as Secretary of the Construction Industry Collective Bargaining Commission, one of the innumerable federal appointments he has held since the time of Roosevelt. His University activities include membership on the Committee of 15 and five years as chairman of the Economics Department. He is proofing a book for publication with Derek Bok. In his spare time, he chairs the University Committee on Governance, which is conducting a sweeping review of the way Harvard is organized. He will be acting Dean of Faculty next semester.

His stint as Dean may determine the fare of many innovations proposed in the Fainsod Report: how he negotiates with the Faculty Council, how he chooses members and relates to the "caucuses," how he interprets his own constituency as Dean of Faculty. The job logically calls for a mediator.

But if Arthur Goldberg flopped as a diplomat, so could John Dunlop as Dean. He himself is wary of "transferring the styles and rules of play from one area to another." Indeed, the rules of play are the very issues at stake in the University.

At present, however, Dunlop's talents have made him one of the most popular committee members at Harvard. His efforts always focus on an agreement acceptable to the whole committee. Last June's report of the Committee of 15, for example, represents such a compromise- "a package," in the terminology of the mediator, that everybody can sign.

In Dunlop's view, the mediator must show how both sides will gain. This contrasts sharply with the notion of an arbitrator, or judge. "The mediator only has an entree to try to persuade people to agree; he does not have the power to decide. It is more satisfying to persuade, I think."

"Persuasion" is a bland description of what Dunlop usually does. "He finds a new route." says Richard Freeman, assistant professor of Economics. "when positions on both sides become hardened." The new solution often takes both sides by surprise, as a dispute over minority hiring practices in the construction industry recently showed.

DUNLOP had originally negotiated a national settlement (the so-called "Model Cities agreement") to increase the number of black workers in the construction unions. The locals, however, "protected" union membership with a rigorous seven-year apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship program, blacks charged, discriminated against them and would certainly have delayed their entry into the unions. In Pittsburgh, these charges increased racial tensions and led to a workers' riot. In Boston, Dunlop introduced the concept of "trainee status" as a second route for blacks into the unions. The trainee program provided a form of special tutoring to prepare blacks for the last stages of apprenticeship. Some blacks called the trainee status a trap and said that no one would graduate from it. In principle, it left the seven-year apprenticeship intact. But Dunlop won the support of the all-black Workers' Defense Leagu, and a prominent member (Ernie Green) agreed to administer the Boston program.

In the Model Cities agreement, the mediator received the blame and the praise. Dunlop, however, takes a modest view of his role: "The parties make the settlement, I only make suggestions." To make the proper suggestions takes imagination, and more important, sympathy. "No guy at that table has complete autonomy. To help him solve his problems, you have to know what his restraints are, what is his constituency." This expresses the vocabulary John Dunlop thinks with-constituencies and problem solving.

Though Dunlop often holds federal appointments, he refuses to connect himself with any Administration-including the present one. "George Schultz [the Secretary of Labor] is an old friend Boston-Washington flight table ("Ten after eleven of mine, I knew him when he was a graduate student at M. I. T .... And though I'm not exactly known as a Republican, a labor-management dispute is no respecter of political parties." Is the government a third party in his mediations? "The trouble is," he grumbles, "the government is umpteen parties. Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Housing, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service-they are all interested parties."

Just as Dunlop denies he is a Nixon man, so he denies the conservative label often pinned on him. "I've certainly never regarded myself as one," he smiles and looks really puzzled. "Take labor and management. No mediator seeks to defend his neutrality. You do your job. Unions won't like this, employers won't like that. I just worry about solving problems and persuading people .... Many years ago, when I was younger, I used to worry about criticisms of being anti-union or anti-employer. Now I know you should go about doing things the best way you can."

THOUGH be led at various times the Faculty's conservative caucus last spring, Dunlop has little ideology outside a belief in collective bargaining and democracy. He makes himself useful by keeping his views to himself, a straightforward pragmatist who likes to play it close to the vest. Roger Rosenblatt, assistant professor of English and member of the Committee of 15, describes him as follows: "Conservative is too negative a description. It's what you call someone when there's nothing else to say. Dunlop's honesty is the most expressive thing about him. His word is absolutely reliable, though he talks around subjects when he wants to."

As an administrator, though, Dunlop has proven more a campaigner than a mediator. "The greatest expansion of the Economics Department." notes Henry Rosovsky, the current chairman. "took place during Dunlop's years as chairman." The number of assistant professors rose from 8 to 30. One of his policies, now enshrined as the "Dunlop system." cut in half the teaching loads of assistant professors and financed their extra research time. Dunlop also pushed hard for greater contact between junior and senior faculty. He found money for his graduate students and chaired the Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Faculty, which up graded the junior titles and asked higher salaries. He even moved out of spacious Littauer into the cramped basement of 1737 Cambridge, chiefly from his suspicion that junior faculty over there were keeping too much to themselves.

Dunlop's administrative record suggests he would be an activist Dean, not a passive consensus-builder. But his record as a mediator suggests his activism may be cautious and stealthy. In particular, the Dean of the Faculty has to avoid intiatives that would impair the confidence the Faculty has in him. Dunlop no doubt realizes this. He realizes, too, his responsibility to a larger public.

"I have no highfalutin philosophy of the university." he says in a low gravel voice. "I do think there are four constituencies: students, faculties, administrators, and alumni. There are also marginal groups like teaching fellows .... Any one of these groups can be disruptive. If the alumni go around raising hell, they can make life difficult. So could the other groups. In order to adapt to change, there must be a degree of accommodation. Accommodation-not consensus-is the word I want to use."

What Dunlop means by "accommodation" is ambiguous and tantalizing, as he no doubt intends it. He has a talent for the subtle pronouncement. In the University setting, says one colleague, Dunlop passes himself off as "a plain nuts-and-bolts guy, a common man who knows life in the shop." In a labor negotiation, however, he presents himself as a "Cambridge intellectual and a man of books." In other words, Dunlop will make a saltier Dean of Faculty than Franklin Ford or George McBundy.

He inists he will serve only as an interim dean. Even on an interim basis, he should be presiding over a major reorganization of the Dean's office as a result of the Fainsod Report. At the same time, as chairman of the Committee on Governance, he will be leading the most momentous study yet of University decision-making. "Of course," he adds, "we don't have the power to decide anything, only the power to make recommendations." In Dunlop's hands, that is an awesome power.

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