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To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
The story (News Analysis) on Project Cambridge in the December 4th CRIMSON conveyed the impression that the Harvard Administration was attempting to prevent debate on the matter in the Faculty meeting two days earlier. I believe that two facts that were not in view at the meeting can account for this impression and when taken into account can relieve the Administration of blame in this situation.
One is the sense of haste that was imposed on the Committee, and surely felt by the President, arising from a December 15 deadline for submission of the next annual renewal application for the Project. While there was understandable irritation at having to work against such a deadline, we could not ignore the fact that prolonged consideration would amount to a pocket veto. I understand that an extension of time has now been requested to allow for further consideration.
The other fact was the inclusion in our report of an unanimous recommendation that the Faculty refrain from voting on the report. Clearly, the minority, all of whom joined in his view, believed that a higher issue was at stake than an opportunity to win in the Faculty a majority that it could not win in the Committee. My impression is that this higher issue was the recognition that a number of important and complex principles were bound together in Project Cambridge and that a simple vote would not reveal which principles were being supported and which were being rejected.
One of these principles or issues is the extent to which the University should become an active, formal partner in group research efforts. It has already done so in a number of cases: the Cambridge Electron Accelerator, the many Centers and Institutes, the Materials Project, and even the several research funds such as the Milton Fund. A number of other proposals have been denied. Clearly such decisions involve several factors such as the wisdom and relevance of the venture and its ultimate cost to Harvard's limited resources as well as the felt need of faculty groups for special research facilities. Since a shift to group research support and away from individual research support seems inevitable, the Faculty will want to examine in some detail the precedens that have been set by past decisions and its role in future decisions of this kind.
At this juncture, however, it may be unwise for the Faculty to carry out a vote that may be interpreted as an invasion without precedent into the scholarly prerogatives of some faculty members who could rightly argue that equivalent commitments have been made in other areas without provoking such a judgment in an open Faculty meeting.
Rather than a vote, with its inevitably ambiguous interpretations, considered statements on the floor of the Faculty meeting or in letters to the President would seem to be a more appropriate and more useful form of faculty expression and advice. In this way each interested person could indicate what policy consideration he believed to be decisive.
Lest my caution in this matter be misinterpreted, I should like to record that I voted with the minority in the Committee on Research Policy.
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