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President Pusey Meets the Press


"I don't see how any young person could be alive in the world today and not be worried."

(In the days since April 9, President Pusey has appeared in public twice to explain his views on the causes and effects of the Harvard crisis. The first was an April 24 symposium at the Business School, where Pusey told an audience in an outdoor tent that force has no place in a university community. The second was last Sunday's "Meet the Press" television program, where Pusey answered questions from four newsmen for half an hour.

Following is a transcript of the show. The questioners are Lawrence Spivak and Sidney Lazard of NBC, Haynes Johnson of the Washington Star, and Thomas Winship of the Boston Globe. The program's moderator was Edwin Newman of NBC.)

NEWMAN: The disruption and violence that have struck many of the nation's campuses this year finally engulfed Harvard, America's oldest university.

Our guest today on Meet The Press is the president of Harvard, Nathan M. Pusey.

SPIVAK: Dr. Pusey, you've come in for great criticism because you called the police to clear out University Hall.

Now with the benefit of hindsight and for the benefit of other university presidents who may be in the same position as you were, do you really think that was the best way of handling the situation?

PUSEY: Well, I did at the time, and I must say I still do.

But you have to recognize that it was one of various possible alternatives. The others seemed clearly to be more productive of long range harm than calling the police at that time.

The question was whether or not we could survive such an action and still get the university back to its regular activity in a reasonable length of time better that way or by letting the thing drag on.

Had it dragged on and brought very large numbers of people from all over the area and the region into the Yard, I think probably the results might have been worse.

I think it would have divided our community very, very seriously. Certainly I think it would have been productive of long range damage.

SPIVAK: You're saying then that despite the fact that the police helped unite the SDS radicals and the moderate majority and a good part of the faculty, that if you had to do it all over again you simply would have done exactly the same thing?

PUSEY: Well, I hope I'm never put in a position where I have to make that kind of decision again.

But we did reckon at the time that some 2000 or more of our students would show an immediate sympathy with the SDS because the police were called.

But as I said, we had to weigh that against what we thought would be a prolonged disruption if we didn't do it.

SPIVAK: Dr. Pusey, there are many people who say that what took place at Harvard just couldn't have happened unless there was something fundamentally wrong with the way the university was being run.

Where do you place the blame -- where do you place the responsibility for what happened?

PUSEY: Well I don't know. It's been growing for rather a long period of time--that is, this use of violence in an effort to disrupt.

It started with us in 1966 at the time of the McNamara incident. We had another episode the following year, when the Dow recruiter came to our community and there was a sit-in. We had one in December this year in the Paine Hall incident where students insisted on sitting in the place where there was to be a Faculty meeting.

These efforts have been escalating, and there have been a number of small ones too.

I think it's clear there is a small group of people that is determined to use force and violence.

The thing that makes it possible however is that there exists also a very general discontent and unease in the student body and in the whole community.

It's the combination of these things that makes possible such an incident as the one we've just been experiencing.

SPIVAK: Dr. Pusey, there seems now to be some difference of understanding among the administration, the alumni, the student, the faculty and even the public over what the basic issues are today--now--after all this thing was over with at Harvard University.

You've had a little time to put the whole thing into perspective. What do you now consider the issue which the university and the students and the faculty and the community face?

PUSEY: With me the issue's quite plain.

It's really a matter of tactics, and what are acceptable tactics and what tactics are not acceptable.

There are many issues that deserve to be discussed and that are trouble-some. There's no denying that.

But in a university community you simply cannot resort to force or coercion to try to have things your way without destroying the very nature of the university itself. And this is what we've been trying to say--that there has to be a line.

Our community tried to draw that line as early as the McNamara incident when they said you could not interfere with the free movement of a human being in our society.

Yet some small group of students kept pressing and pressing and pressing--and do not accept the notion that you cannot use violent and disruptive tactics.

I think myself that these people know what they're doing--and they're not interested in keeping the university alive as a place for free discussion.

But that really is the issue. It's whether the university can preserve its nature and go about its business or whether it's going to become just a scene for politicking and squabbling.

JOHNSON: Yes, Mr. Pusey--I would like to get into some of the motivations and causes for student unrest, not only at Harvard but around the country generally.

There seems to be a feeling of some people that this is merely a reflection of a sick society in America.

One of your colleagues, the president of Amherst, wrote President Nixon saying that these are going to continue until some of the basic problems are solvable--riots, racial oppression and the rest.

How do you feel about that?

PUSEY: I think there's a good deal of truth in that. I have sympathy for the large numbers of students who are deeply concerned about problems in our national life and problems in our university life.

My real quarrel is only with those who are interested in disruption and violence to stop the free work and discussion of these ideas in the university.

I don't see how any young person could be alive in the world today and not be worried.

We all look back to the war in Vietnam as a basic source of unhappiness and concern.

There are many other things.

I think the basic feeling that many young people feel is that our society has been serving false gods, if you will, kind of getting and gaining and working all you life or saving up things--and have not paid enough attention to the broader range of humane values in existence.

They also think that the older people are quite insensitive to this range of concerns and they have convinced themselves that the older people are not doing anything to correct it.

I don't agree with their analysis or their estimate of it. Yet I do sympathize with it. And I think a lot of the general unrest on campuses springs from valid concerns.

And insofar as people show these concerns, we as a nation ought to think of them as the source of future strength.

It's just the impatience that insists on correcting the situation "right now" that is a little hard to live with.

JOHNSON: Speaking of correcting the situation "right now"--there are many remedies being talked about, some saying "Get tough"--from the President on down, talking about putting more backbone in college administrators.

The attorney general is talking about a "tyranny of a minority" and new laws.

Do you think that's the way to go?

PUSEY: No, I don't.

Many of us, I think, are terribly afraid of that kind of reaction from outside the campus communities.

It is something we ought rightly to be frightened by.

I think the answer to this has to come from within the university community itself. I think it has to come from the students and faculty primarily.

And it will come only as these groups themselves come to see that this kind of disrupting activity is something that can't be tolerated.

They'll have to withhold, I think, their sympathy with this small group of revolutionaries who don't care about the university--if we're going to come through this period.

WINSHIP: Dr. Pusey, what do you see as the future of the student protest? How much of it will dissipate when the war closes?

A lot of people say 90 per cent of the steam will go out of it when the war is over. Do you think that's so?

PUSEY: Well, that would be a tragedy if that were true.

This kind of disruption I'm talking about can't dissipate too soon, of course, as far as I'm concerned. But the concern about the long range problems--we hope they will carry that with them into their adult lives and keep on trying to do something to correct them.

WINSHIP: Going back to what the university can do -- the governing board of Harvard is about 300 years old.

Do you have any specific ideas about how it should be modernized--if it should be?

PUSEY: You're talking now about the present Fellows--Overseers?

WINSHIP: Overseers--the Corporation . . .

PUSEY: We have two governing boards. Most institutions have one.

I think there's a great deal of misunderstanding--for example, what the role of the president and Fellows is.

This is a group of the president, the treasurer and five other people. It's in their name that the business of the university is conducted.

The five Fellows--their chief responsibility I'd say is to make sure that the institution is properly staffed and that it's possible for the institution to pay its bills.

They do not meddle in the day-to-day activities.

This kind of responsibility has long since been delegated to the different faculties of the university.

They do help to relate the university to the outside world, to protect it, to interpret it, and to try to introduce into the university concerns from the outside world of which there should be an awareness inside.

That kind of activity is an essential part of the health of an institution, and I would hope that something like our governing boards will continue.

LAZARD: Mr. Pusey, the SDS is the biggest and most organized of the disruptive student groups on cmapus. It says it's dedicated to the destruction of the establishment.

It also has said that the university is the brain of the establishment and must therefore be killed off first.

I'd like to know, can Harvard--or any university--come to terms with a group that preaches that sort of doctrine?

PUSEY: Well--not all SDS people at Harvard would subscribe to that.

I think one of the things the public may not have observed is that each time the question about occupying University Hall was proposed to the SDS group, it was voted down.

Still they went right ahead.

So it's a group within SDS that are the ones that have espoused violence and force.

The large number of them. I don't really think, have gone that far.

They are disenchanted with American society.

They are also convinced that universities are somehow creatures of a corrupt society and minister to it.

But I would think that there are lots of people in the SDS group at Harvard who have a genuine affection for the institution and some understanding of the institution that would make them proof against just accepting that as gospel without analysis.

LAZARD: Mr. Pusey, how would you propose dealing though with those students who are chronic disrupters of university life?

PUSEY: This is our major problem right now.

I wish I knew the answer and could give it to all the institutions in the country.

I tried to say a moment ago, it seems to me that we can only cope with it when the students and faculty come to see themselves that this cannot be tolerated within a university community.

LAZARD: Dr. Pusey, you said a moment ago that the student body felt the university administrators were possibly worshipping false gods. What can administrators at Harvard and other universities do to better align themselves with the values of the young?

PUSEY: I wish I knew a quick answer to that.

One of the difficulties at Harvard is that we have not given as much of our effort to building administration perhaps as we should have.

The administrative officers at Harvard are chiefly the deans of the faculties--and these people are all professors.

They are faculty members.

We don't have a separate group of administrative officers that are some different kind of species.

I think we have counted on these deans--the deans of students, masters in houses, tutors, members of senior common rooms--somehow to keep a warm relationship between authority in the institution and the students.

We probably have not been as imaginative as we should have been in seeing where this is not functioning as fully, as strongly as it ideally ought to.

SPIVAK: Dr. Pusey, you've come in for criticism too because you didn't ask for faculty support before you called in the police. Why didn't you?

PUSEY: That particular decision was taken in the hours following the occupation itself.

We had been anticipating that some such incident might occur for almost a year, and from the time I've been president the group to which I've turned directly for advice and consultation in these matters is what I call this council of deans.

They are the heads of the various faculties of the university as I just said, they are all members of the faculty, and I had, assumed that in talking with them and getting their views I was getting access to faculty opinion and also, to a degree, student opinion.

WINTHROP: Did they all favor the takeover, Dr. Pusey?

PUSEY: During the course of the hours of discussion there were a number, of different opinions expressed as to what we should do. This was their responsibility, to try to propose the different alternatives and to discuss them and make the cases for them.

In the end, I think it's quite clear that there was no dissenting opinion about the decision when it was finally taken.

SPIVAK: Dr. Pusey, there are some who feel that Harvard University should forget all the charges against the students who occupied University Hall. How do you feel about that?

PUSEY: I don't see how the faculty can possibly do that. I think that this was a direct threat to the operation of the university, particularly to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, to its properly constituted officers, and I think that if the faculty were not to consider that a serious matter -- it would be a serious matter!

SPIVAK: There are a great many Harvard alumni who feel that the Corporation and you have yielded to the coercion of the strikers by granting most of the important demands they made by using force.

Can you tell us what significant demands the strikers made that have been turned down?

PUSEY: Well I don't know which ones you could say have been granted.

The main one, I suppose, or a group of them on the ROTC issue--that issue was discussed pretty widely by faculty and students last November, and then there were interruptions. But finally a faculty vote was taken as to what was a desirable course of action, and we have been following that course of action ever since.

PUSEY: The SDS demand was that ROTC should just be thrown out, right now, this instant. And that, of course, we've not done. We're trying and trying to find out how this can be worked out in following the direction the faculty gave, that if it stays it has to be at the level of an exeracurricular activity.

SPIVAK: Black student demands?

PUSEY: The black student thing is a very special matter.

Again, there had been a faculty committee and people working on that problem for almost a year. It had come up with recommendations--a program as expressed in the so-called Rosovsky report.

The faculty had adopted this in February. Then in the weeks--I think the days, almost the hours--before this disruption occurred on April 9, there was dissatisfaction expressed with that by the blacks.

And that matter came back for action by the faculty in the period of all this excitement.

Now they did vote in regard to this--thing that were not in the original report. And I think the faculty felt there were reasons for considering this a very special case.

The action taken here does point to another thing that is part of the general background that everybody ought to have in mind.

Student dissatisfaction--among the blacks and whites--turns in great measure on the rate or pace at which change is effected or not effected.

I think they were very impatient with the slowness with which this program for the black students was moving, and insisted on quicker action.

I do think there is no question that it has been speeded up--and this probably contrary to the earlier intention of the faculty.

It presents problems, Whether or not these can be worked out in the next two or three years remains to be seen. But there is no question that pressure did lead to a tremendous acceleration on this point.

JOHNSON: Yes, I'd like to go back to the question which seems central. That is the use of force.

You were faced with the decision to bring to police, for instance.

This has been the case at Harvard, at Columbia, back at Chicago during the convention--where police come in and then use perhaps unnecessary force, club and kick, take off their badges and so forth.

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