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Berg's Trespass


ON NOV. 13 the Middlesex District Court found John Berg guilty of criminal trespass for being inside University Hall during the protest against the Cambridge Project this September. Berg's conviction shows that the Committee of Fifteen seriously intends to compel students separated or dismissed last spring to stay off Harvard property.

The University has tried to justify bringing a criminal charge against Berg in two ways. Dean May argues that Berg's presence on Harvard property endangered the safety of University officers. James Q. Wilson, spokesman for the Committee of Fifteen says instead that when Berg was "separated" last spring the University meant to deny him both the right to register for classes and the right to associate with the Harvard community. Berg had to be kept off the campus. Wilson says, to show the gravity of his offense last year.

Neither rationale is convincing. The threat of a criminal trespass charge will hardly stop anyone from assulating a Harvard dean. Denying a student the right to register is itself a harsh punishment since it guarantees entry into Nixon's army raffle. More importantly. in keeping Berg and the other separated students off the campus with criminal sanction, the Committee of Fifteen is threatening values as important to the Harvard community as the safety of its members.

It is disturbing, first of all, that the Committee chose to base its charge against Berg on his appearance at the protest against the Cambridge Project. Professor Wilson has argued that Berg's presence at the University Hall protest was singled out from his other appearances on campus only because the evidence necessary to sustain a charge was most easily assembled there. Nonetheless, by choosing to charge Berg with trespass at a political demonstration, the Committee has made it appear that it is less interested in enforcing an academic penalty than in putting a damper on radical politics on campus.

The Committee also should have acted with more caution in enforcing an academic decision with a criminal penalty. Ordinarily the University has not prosecuted members of the public who demonstrate on its property if no academic complaint is going to be brought against the students involved. In the Cambridge Project demonstration, however, Berg was the only person disciplined. Several lawyers have questioned whether Harvard can arbitrarily exclude a particular member of the public from a demonstration or meeting generally open to public attendance without violating Constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. It is not clear that Harvard can constitutionally single out Berg for special criminal liability solely because of an academic penalty levied against him last year.

IN ANY event, the Faculty has never approved the terms of the Committee of Fifteen's newly invented punishment of "separation." Years ago, when the Faculty devised the penalty of requiring a student to withdraw, they did include the requirement that he be away from the College for several terms. But it is highly unlikely that the Faculty ever meant to make it a criminal act for a withdrawn student to reappear on campus. Without express Faculty approval, the Committee of Fifteen should have been awfully wary in using a criminal penalty to enforce Berg's academic exile.

The most threatening part of the Committee's decision to prosecute Berg is that it limits the right of faculty and students to bring guests to the campus-both for demonstrations and for discussion and meetings. As the Committee of Fifteen now interprets its decision of last April, no student separated or dismissed last spring can visit Harvard-even if invited by a student or Faculty member-unless he secures permission from the Committee. Although there is no question of the University's right to determine who may register for classes, neither the University nor any committee should have the power to decide who may associate with a Harvard student or faculty member if that individual invites association. Attorney General Mitchell's refusal to allow the Marxist economist Ernest Mandel to enter this country for a conference last week is an example of the danger of delegating the power to censor the entry of guests. The right of the Faculty and students to freely bring guests-including separated students-onto the campus is as crucial to the free exchange of ideas as is unrestricted speech in the classroom.

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