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Pusey's Speech to House Committee

He Urges Congress to 'Refrain From Precipitate Action'


(The following is the text of President Pusey's prepared statement delivered before the special House subcommittee on education last Thursday in Washington, D.C.)

IN MY JUDGMENT there is little likelihood that the current disturbances and ills which plague college and university campuses can be helped by new legislation at the local, state or federal levels. I have believed strongly--and nothing that has happened at Harvard in recent weeks has caused me to change my opinion--that a correction for our manifold present difficulties can only come from within the academic communities themselves. Let me hasten to agree, however, with what I take to be the view of many concerned people outside the universities, that a correction is clearly overdue.

Very serious injury is being done to the academic enterprise in this country as in many other countries, by the disruptions now being experienced in university communities. In the very period of the world's greatest need for education, the number of institutions of higher learning being shut down, or in which scholarly work is made virtually impossible, for varying periods of time here and abroad, is a scandal. The hours and days and terms wasted in turmoil and emotional distress by students and faculty are beyond calculation. On many campuses for long periods of time learning has almost ceased; and research if it has moved at all, has only limped along. Serious intellectual work cannot be accomplished in a violent revolutionary atmosphere. We need serious intellectual work. And we need those serious people--happily there are still many--who have not lost their faith and interest in this kind of activity and want to get on with the job. In the offing too are the new generations of young people waiting and needing to learn. In the light of these considerations the one unlikable conclusion, which I take it I share with you, is that the turmoil and violence on our campuses must stop.

My firm conviction is that the campus communities themselves are the only instruments by which the desired end can properly be effected. If this desired result is to be achieved, students, faculties, administrative officers, governing boards and alumni all together must now say, "Enough is enough," and beyond this, they must mean it and show by their actions that they mean it. And--though some of you will find it hard to believe--it is my opinion that academic communities are going to measure up to this task. Signs are multiplying of a growing readiness on the part of faculty and students to assume this strange, unexpected and unwanted responsibility.

WHAT HAS BEEN happening on our campuses is both difficult and not difficult to understand--difficult in its deeper causes, but reasonably clear as revealed in the surface events which engender disruption. There are small groups of active revolutionaries on most campuses who have given up on American society and its institutions. Many of these are unimaginative, and not untypically rather fanatical young people whose professed aim is to bring down the "Establishment" as a preliminary to ushering in--they believe--a new and better order of individual freedom and gratification. These groups and their atrocious activities constitute the source of our immediate problem. Though their numbers are not great, they have managed to bring about an incredible amount of disturbance. Yet it is not they, so much as the response they have won from other young people who should refuse to follow their lead, which constitutes the most serious problem.

This latter problem--which is, I think, basic--can be dealt with only quietly in reasonable analysis and discourse, over a long period of time. The immediate task, therefore, is to make clear within academic communities that revolutionaries insofar as they insist on using tactics of violence, disruption and coercion in pursuit of their goals have no rightful place, and will not be tolerated. If academic communities are to survive--or at any rate are to survive healthy and free--they must insist on this primary requirement of their existence.

Militant radicals have been winning varying degrees of sympathy from a much wider group of concerned and troubled young people. The amount of support the latter give changes with the issues--goes up and down almost from day to day. The revolutionaries search continuously for issues to win support from their nonmilitant colleagues in order to increase their own following and to achieve their basic purpose, which they acknowledge quite frankly is simply to extend "the movement." By this they mean to foster a revolution which they assume they are leading. They have been fairly successful in recent years in finding issues and so have gained not only tolerance but a great deal of active sympathy for themselves.

BUT IF WE are to understand this latter lamentable phenomenon we must recognize and keep in mind that young people do have legitimate cause for worry and dissatisfaction. They have suddenly become acutely aware of many blemishes in American life, within universities and even more in the world outside. They cannot understand why adults in our society--their parents, you and I--do not appear to be equally concerned, nor why we have not already made substantial advances toward correcting the many abuses of which they have become conscious--such abuses as the war, poverty, blighted cities, distored values for living, an overconcern with getting and gaining, an absence of loving and caring--these and others.

It is easy to say these young people with their lack of experience as to the true world situation and of the conditions of adult life, have an inadequate understanding of how difficult it is to effect constructive change, of how slowly substantial improvements are won when they are won, how much effort, concern, dedication and patience are required, how much knowledge and trained skill are needed, and how many conscientious efforts have been and are even now being made. It is also easy to fault the revolutionaries among them for such things as their manifest egotism and self-righteousness, their unwillingness to listen, the impatient orthodoxy of their so-called radicalism, their superior moral attitude, the tendency of the quickest among them to equate brightness with wisdom and articulateness with understanding, their failure to see that the business of living is essentially a compromise with imperceptibility, their arrogance and shameless vulgarity, and their belief that action is more important than competence, and feeling (they call it "caring") more important than understanding.

But the present militant young will not listen to explanations or accept excuses from us. They want results; and they want them now. The mood is widespread. And were it not for its impatience, and the lack of charity it engenders because of its imperfect understanding, who can deny that it is a good thing? The statement painted by youthful revolutionaries on a building at the London School of Economics, "We want the world, and we want it now" is only an expression of a deep-rooted concern and an insistence on change which springs from valil sources of strength in contemporary society.

THERE ARE REAL troubles in society and in the human heart which foster disturbances on campuses, and we have a gigantic task to face up to them, if we are to move toward the eradication or amelioration of the manifold blemishes of our society in such a way as to recall the distressed and angry, young and old, to work patiently and seriously together, charitably, and reasonably and on a basis of knowledge, in a fresh effort to build a satisfying society that will stir and elicit loyalty.

I cannot say how this is quickly to be done. This long-range aim is what education is all about. Members of faculties, able and devoted teachers will have to do the job. I can only ask that the public outside the universities recognize that the present problem is deep and difficult, and entreat their legislators not to seek to effect correction by hasty enactments which cannot reach to the root of the difficulty and will in all probability only spread the discontent.

I would like to assure the Congress and the public from my own experience that we within the universities are not unaware of the serious implications of the disturbances with which we are now confronted--how venomous and threatening they are. I would like the Committee to believe that we are seeking to understand them and to find ways to contain those relatively few individuals who are most immediately responsible. Toward this end we must enlist the cooperation of the many other young who truly want to build a better society. It is for this reason that I urge you to refrain from precipitate legislation at this time, though recognizing your desire to be helpful. Clarification is on the way. Wills and resolve are stiffening. Those who understand learning and care for it are coming together. Academic communities move slowly to defend themselves. They are almost endlessly tolerant. But the new barbarism will be repulsed. Our institutions will not be surrendered. In a sense universities live for dissent. In less anxious times they encourage and welcome it. But they are not so complacent or other-worldly that they do not know when their lives are threatened, and I am confident as they come to recognize the evil which has recently been permitted through indulgence to grow in their midst they will respond, and again assert the university's true character.

My plea is that in the interest of our national well-being you retain faith in the vast majority of our young people and permit the institutions which exist to foster their education to get on with their very difficult task in ways which will seem to them appropriate, and which alone, I believe, can be counted on to be productive.

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