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Ford's Resignation Statement


At its meeting on December 2, acting on my request, the President and Fellows voted to honor my resignation as Dean, effective June 30, 1970. The terms of my leave of absence, and of Professor Dunlop's acting deanship, have not been altered; but my decision to resume full-time teaching next fall has now been given official effect.

In a highly politicized atmosphere, any such action is likely to appear political in its motivation. This one is not. Very little would be gained by laboring the point. My friends will have no difficulty in believing that my decision is essentially a personal one, long considered and maturely arrived at. Anyone who does not believe me would almost surely be unconvinced by long explanations.

The personal, which is to say also the professional, grounds ought to be obvious. I am not yet fifty years old, but before long I shall be. This is my eighth year in a fascinating, but also demanding and almost endlessly distracting, position. None of my predecessors since Dean Briggs' time, with the sole exception of Professor Buck, served longer in this capacity.

I believe that history, as a field, while not unique in this regard, does permit a university administrator to go on teaching and even writing, at the same time he is learning some more history through experience. That permission, however, is not unlimited as to time. With each passing year, one becomes more aware of the effort required to "stay in the game," so to speak-not to mention the growing sense of drawing on scholarly capital. There comes a point when the decision to complete one's career as a professor must be faced squarely. Beyond that point, the decision could easily lose any real meaning.

For Shorter Terms

Needless to say, even a personal move may have institutional overtones. It is my own belief that the Deanship of this Faculty can and should rotate on a cycle somewhat shorter than that which makes sense for the deanships of either the professional schools of Harvard or, indeed, the major subdivisions of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences itself. However. I do not, at this point, wish to appear to be imposing, or hiding behind, any general theory of deanships or of their varying demands. Sufficient unto the case are the specifics thereof.

As for political considerations, I can here quite candidly plead innocent, for the simple reason that it strikes me as impossible to predict, much less to manipulate, the effects of any given resignation or appointment on the churned-up politics of the present Harvard community.

I am not so disingenuous as to suggest that the deanship has become any more attractive in the past year, which is to say, since the Faculty meeting we did not hold in Paine Hall in December of 1968.

It would be a rare individual indeed who could enjoy listening, on a series of Tuesday afternoons, to what. in my view, is becoming excessively glib and insufficiently examined rhetoric concerning 'confidence,' authority and 'legitimacy,' without much regard to certain other matters of some moment, including responsibility and even, in some circumstances, a degree of sacrifice. It would be a still rarer individual who relished parliamentary debates explicitly, or more commonly implicitly, concerned what his own alleged qualities of mind and character.

Proud of Faculty

And yet, my continuing pride in this Faculty, viewed simply as a body of scholars, has survived, and will survive, and will survive, quick flashes of pain or incredulity. Those things pass. A host of friendships do not, nor do memories of joint efforts to achieve many worthwhile ends. I beg license only to urge the Faculty, as it goes about reorganizing itself, not to ignore-as one problem among many-the matter of incentives for those it expects to serve it, at whatever level of administration.

In closing. I should like to share with you three reflections which, even now, give me a feeling, admittedly hard-won and never immune to uncertainties, of satisfaction and of confidence:

The first is this: many people in these last few years, on leaving the sort of position. I have occupied, have also felt impelled to leave the institutions in which they have held them. I feel no such impulsion, and that bare fact means more to me than could ever be explained in a public statement. It also says a great deal about Harvard.

My second encouraging conclusion is that the fundamental relationship between the Faculty and the two Governing Boards is in reality a great deal sounder than some people appear to believe, judging from various assertions made in recent months. Here my own experience, though obviously limited, is not irrelevant. Both the Corporation and the Overseers have allowed me to be heard, as a spokesman for you, the Faculty, more frequently and more sympathetically than many of you, I suspect, are likely to have realized.

That is because, in the nature of the case, you see and hear the other side-the representation to you of decisions taken by those same Governing Boards. On reflection, however. I feel sure that you will perceive in a high proportion of those very decisions solid evidence that the Faculty's views have been both recorded and valued. Whatever changes may come, in the endless remodeling of Harvard, there is no basis for assuming that the relationship in this area is one between adversaries; and there is nothing to be gained by trying to manufacture such an assumption.

Third, and last. I believe our students will ultimately prove to be not only an innovating, but also a steadying, force. There are already heartening indications that the great bulk of the student body will not be content to spend their time at Harvard in conditions of emotional smog and intellectual squalor.

Academic fashions may fluctuate. Specific fields of study do, as we all know, rise or fall in relative popularity. But in the long run. I believe, our students simply will not let us abdicate our responsibility to teach, to argue, and let's face it, at times to be unpopular. If the Faculty is to recover its nerve, its clarity about and confidence in espousing the few, central values of a university, the students may have to pitch in and help. I believe they will.

This is by far the longest formal statement I have ever read to the Faculty. The consolation, if any is needed, is that it is also my last, at least from this chair. Of course, once I resume my place out there, on the other side of the footlights, who knows what may happen! It has been years since I've had the chance to second a motion.

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