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The Overseers Look at Harvard

By P. ), The City, and (wilson Committee

(Following is the text of the Overseers' Committee interim report on the causes of the April student strike. The report was written under the direction of the Friendly Committee, chaired by Judge Henry J. Friendly, and passed by the Overseers Friday, Sept. 12.

The introduction to the report, omitted because of the shortage of space, calls for creation of a University-wide committee to study restructuring and recommend changes in University governance.)


BY SUMMER of 1968, student unrest and violence had repeated itself all over the nation and, indeed, the world. It seemed to reflect an almost universal generational conflict of unusual intensity, as well as a wide variety of particular dissatisfactions in different countries. In our own country, the combination of the draft and the war in Vietnam was the most important of these specific factors. A large segment of the nation disapproved of the war.

Students felt this much more strongly than the nation at large; the majority of Harvard students believed the war to be unjustified and many considered it to be positively immoral. The existence of the draft made the issue concrete and personal to them. Further, concern with racial discrimination and newly intensified awareness of other kinds of social injustice added to the feeling of many students that society as now constituted required basic change.

We emphasize that these problems are in no way unique to Harvard Rather it is a tribute to her that the students expect so much of the University, probably more than it can ever give. This is true with respect to how and what it can teach them, what it can offer in the way of an ideal community, and what it can do about the evils and deficiencies of the world at large. Inevitable disappointment in one or another of these expectations leads many students both to associate the University with the evils of the world and to want to make it come nearer to their hopes.

Students-and at this point we are speaking mainly of undergraduates-attack the educational process on two chief heads, the quality of teaching and the "relevance" of what is taught. The students' faith in the University as a teaching institution has been undermined by absences of senior professors, the impersonality of some of the instructional process, and the narrow, abstract, and technical mode in which the intellectual concerns of the faculty are sometimes expressed.

This last in turn leads to the major complaint about the content of instruction, its lack of "relevance." It takes a faith which many students cannot muster to agree with the view that . . .

. . . In a larger sense . . . the work of all members of a university is relevant, if by relevant we mean not useful or topical but developing new information and raising fundamental questions of purpose and value in such a way as to illumine contemporary problems.

They are far from sure that all the study in the world will illumine institutional racism, the Vietnam War, or the arms race sufficiently to show us how to stop them, and they are not at all certain that the time scale on which things are happening will allow the luxury of waiting to find out.

They feel a great pressure to do everything presently in their power to force reason and humanity on a world which they think in many ways to be inhumane and senseless, and they in turn ask "the university" to do likewise. As was well said by the Wilson Committee:

However small the direct effect of Harvard's actions . . . the university, because of its visibility, its symbolic importance, and the standards of conduct to which it is held by its own students and faculty, has special obligation to behave in exemplary ways. . . . We are, and we are judged to be, an institution devoted to humanistic values and thus accountable to higher standards of conduct than those which prevail among most business firms.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has also been undergoing changes that have affected both itself and its students. Some of these are vividly characterized in the Report of the Committee on the Recruitment and Retention of the Faculty. This reminds us that:

Down until the recent past the tenure members of the faculty did not consider themselves employees of the University doing a job for a salary. They were members of a community which assisted them in doing the work they wished to do. (p. 23)

(Now a faculty member's) loyalties are no longer narrowly focused on the Yard; and often he can very well conceive that his work could go forward from some other base than Harvard. . . . The availability of funds from government and the foundations encouraged the trend toward setting monetary equivalent for all the fractions of the faculty member's time-for research as well as for teaching and for administration. The subtle change in the view of the stipend-from a means of enabling the professor to do what he in any case wished to do, to a salary for doing a job-was scarcely noticed. But its ultimate result was to bring him unwittingly into the market place as a seller of his services. That role has begun to influence the meaning of membership in the University community. (p. 27)

Many professors have voiced concern to us over what they consider a lessened sense of teaching responsibility by their colleagues, especially in relation to undergraduates. Further, the quadrupling of the tenured faculty since the turn of the century has necessarily reduced the frequency and intimacy of contacts among faculty members, as has the increased specialization consequent on the explosive growth of knowledge. These considerations apply with even greater force to the junior faculty and teaching fellows, who have grown even more in numbers, and so many of whom are, and think of themselves as, merely transients with no strong lies to the community.

ALONG WITH the decline in the strength of sense of faculty community, the House system has lost its hold on many students. The mounting pressures on faculty time and changed faculty orientations have lessened the intellectual benefits of the Houses to the students. Such decreased intellectual benefits and what are felt by many students to be increased liabilities of control have combined to make the Houses, as presently conceived and operating, less attractive than they were even a very few years ago.

This is not to say that they do not continue to serve well a good percentage of Harvard students, or to question that they remain one of Harvard's great strengths. But apartment living-even with high Cambridge rents, frequently inferior facilities, and other serious drawbacks seems, from their conversations, to be tempting to many Harvard undergraduates at least for the moment, although this, of course, clashed with the view that Harvard should take pains not to aggravate the Cambridge residential problem.

Much of what we have said about undergraduates applies, perhaps in even greater measure, to first-and second-year graduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This appears to be particularly true of students in the humanities and the social sciences. The report of the Wolff Committee has discussed these problems, and we cannot now add significantly to its analysis.

It would be a serious error to consider the foregoing discussion of troubled areas as representing the entire picture. Much, very likely most, of the work of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences continues to give teachers and students the intellectual and emotional satisfaction that has made Harvard what it long has been. However, despite the central role of that Faculty, a great deal of the glory and importance of Harvard lies in the professional schools. We have not had time to sample faculty and student opinion in these schools to anything like the same degree as in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. However, our impression is that the greater commitment of the students, the smaller size of the full-time faculty, and constructive measures already taken by many of the schools have made the problems of most of them considerably less acute, although there are significant variations.

While we do not minimize the gravity of these and other problems, we are sure we are expressing the sentiments of all except the tiniest minority of the University community in saying that violent means for their solution are inadmissible. Such measures cannot be tolerated anywhere in society and least of all in an institution dedicated to reason and freedom. The seizure of University Hall was the work not simply of a small group dedicated to the overthrow of society but of a dissident faction of that group. There is no way to insure that such tactics will not be repeated. The task rather is to assure the great mass of the University community that reasoned views with respect to change will receive proper attention.


GIVEN THE historic decentralized character of Harvard, solutions to many of the problems we have noted lie within the grasp of each of the faculties. Debate within them has already given rise to various efforts at reform. Both the statutes and the traditions of the University permit each of the faculties broad leeway in determining how it should function, consistently with Harvard's fundamental commitment to academic excellence.

At the present stage of the debate, we can see no reason to set any rigid limitations upon this process. The work of reappraisal on intrafaculty matters must be initiated and carried forward primarily by faculty and students engaging in the most intimate kind of dialogue at the departmental and faculty-wide levels.

On some issues, including the important one of student participation, we perceive no immediate need for uniformity either among faculties or among subjects, although we think faculties could well learn from discussions with each other, and experience might ultimately indicate the desirability of some University-wide standards.

The nature and content of the curriculum, the time required for its completion, such revision of teaching methods as may be needed to restore the intimacy that once prevailed between students and senior professors, and the adequacy of existing methods for testing candidates both for tenure and non-tenure appointments are also the primary responsibilities of the various faculties.

Another matter, initially for faculty consideration, but ultimately of University-wide concern, is that each large faculty may have to be so organized that it can operate effectively through a properly constituted representative body. An exceedingly important matter and one requiring early consideration by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is the merger with Radcliffe.

In contrast, to matters where a degree of diversity may not be undesirable, we believe that, pending the development of University-wide standards with respect to the permissible limits of political protest, there should be the greatest possible endeavor to achieve uniformity. To that end we recommend that the various faculties give speedy and favorable consideration to the Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities adopted on an interim basis by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on June 9, 1969 and to the actions thereon by the Governing Boards in September, 1969.

While much can be done within the faculties, important problems requiring solution on a University level have already surfaced and more are bound to do so. We have just mentioned one-the development of University-wide standards with respect to obstructions of processes and activities essential to its functioning and of fair procedures for their prompt enforcement. Another is the responsibility of the University to the communities where it operates and its relationship to a still wider society in a multiplicity of contexts.

Closely related to this is the planning of the University's future growth and development. While questions relating to admissions are in large degree the responsibility of individual faculties, they have implications, both financial and otherwise, for the University as a whole; and other issues with respect to investment and financial policies have been raised.

Still other subjects that may require action at the University level are the increasing number of programs offered jointly by two or more faculties and the establishment of standards with respect to outside activities of faculty members. Moreover our statement that certain matters are the primary responsibilities of a faculty does not mean that the University can turn its head away if these are not fulfilled.


WE HAVE given much thought to the question whether Harvard's present set of central institutions can be improved or altered to enable it to deal more effectively with such issues. Almost the first point brought to our attention after our appointment concerned the enormous burdens which the expansion of the University and its new problems have placed upon the President, and the consequent need for strengthening the central administration to case these burdens and provide other officers who will be in a position to detect trouble areas before these reach serious proportions and who possess sufficient stature that faculties and students will feel satisfaction in communication with them.

Better channels of communication between and among the administration, the governing boards, faculties, students and alumni, are rather plainly needed. There is need also to reexamine the method of selection and tenure of the governing boards; the nature and extent of their responsibilities; and the relations between them, assuming that the historic bicameral structure is found to have continuing merit. The re-examination should also encompass the issue whether Harvard should create another central body,primarily representing faculty and students, to work with the governing boards and, if so, how it should be constituted and what role it should play with respect to various issues.

While, as stated at the outset, we had intended to develop our own proposals on these and other subjects relating to the central government of the University, we have come to the view that it would be wiser if the Overseers and the Fellows would participate in the similar efforts being made by the various faculties. Consequently, we recommend the early creation of a University-wide Committee on Governance which can serve as an appropriate form for the discussion of proposals affecting the structure of Harvard's central institutions. While the Committee should contain representatives of the faculties and of the governing boards, it would not have power to bind them. We would hope rather that the members of the Committee would maintain sufficiently close contact with their constituencies that, if a consensus could be reached, the faculties would be likely to respond with favor and the governing boards to approve.

This necessarily implies that each of the committee members will attempt to frame proposals that can reasonably be expected to gain wide-spread agreement among all interested groups and not simply to advance plans that might appeal to a narrow majority.

We would not be discharging our responsibilities if we simply recommended such a Committee without presenting our thoughts as to its composition. We have seriously considered the proposition that each of the faculties should fill an equal number of seats. Such an apportionment would dramatize that the proposed Committee on University Governance is not, and cannot be a representative body in any formal sense but is instead the most convenient forum for developing proposals which reasonable men with widely differing perspectives, have agreed deserve the most serious attention by the entire University.

On the other hand, we think the larger faculties should each have the right to fill at least four seats to begin to do justice to the diverse currents of opinion that exist within each, and we fear that if each faculty had that many seats the group would be so large as to be unable to engage in the process of mutual accommodation that must go forward if a satisfactory institutional structure is to be designed.

Consequently, it appears wiser to temper the principle of equality so as to give the larger faculties a better opportunity to reflect their extraordinary diversity. Accordingly, we are inclined to recommend that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences fill six seats in order to represent adequately the undergraduate and postgraduate programs, the three large professional faculties of Law, Medicine and Business Administration fill four each, and the five smaller faculties-Design, Divinity, Education, Public Administration and Public Health-send two members each. In addition, we propose that three Overseers, two Fellows, a representative of the Radcliffe Trustees and a representative of the Associated Harvard Alumni serve on the Committee: these must be willing to devote the large amount of time that membership will require.

(Editor's note: Although the Friendly Report suggested allotting representation on the committee according to the size of the various faculties, the full Board of Overseers gave President Pusey complete discretion in establishing the new committee. On the advice of the Deans, Pusey decided that equal representation would provide a smaller and more efficient body which could begin more promptly.)

While we believe that each of the faculties should determine the manner in which it will select its delegates to the Committee on University Governance, we wish to make it clear that students, as well as faculty, should be chosen to serve. We would urge that no faculty should be without student representation and also that, at least in the case of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, one non-tenured officer of instruction should be included.

While we have no illusion that our formula is the only feasible one, we do not believe that a great deal of time should be spent on lengthy debate concerning "representation" on the Committee. As we have already emphasized, the Committee will not have the power of decision; the weight to be given its proposals by the faculties and the governing boards will depend on the extent to which they accommodate the interests of faculty, students, administration, alumni and the larger society in a fair way and meet the longer range needs of the University as a whole. This task will be difficult and time-consuming enough without being postponed by protracted discussion of preliminary details.

We realize there will be sentiment that, at least so far as concerns the governing boards and the central administration, our committee should make its own proposals. But these matters are of concern not simply to the Overseers but to the entire University community and would inevitably figure in recommendations of Working Group Three of the Committee of Fifteen and similar committees of other faculties, students and alumni. We therefore think it best that the task of making recommendations on these subjects also should be channeled to an overall committee although we are eager to give our tentative views and to render all possible assistance to it.

Moreover we would suppose that in matters relating to the composition of the governing boards the Committee would accord particular weight to the views of their representatives because of their familiarity with the subject and their sense of what will be acceptable.


NO REFORM of central institutional machinery alone will be sufficient immediately to reestablish the high sense of mutual trust and confidence that formerly prevailed at Harvard. However, we are convinced that an honest and open process of discussion of this, along with the discussions by the various faculties on matters within their jurisdiction, is indispensable to that end, and therefore that this work must proceed with a sense of urgency. We call upon all members of the Harvard community to join it.

We call on them also, faculty, administrators, students and members of the governing boards, to search their own consciences to see whether they are performing consistently with their own concepts of what Harvard should be. Restoration of the spirit Harvard had only a few years ago depends not only on new institutional arrangements but on rededication of teachers to their primary task of teaching and of students to their primary task of learning.

It depends also on a willingness in case of dispute to hear the other side, to be convinced of error at least occasionally, and, when not so convinced, to recognize that a difference of opinion may be honest and not mere hypocrisy. It entails a corresponding duty on the part of decision-makers to hear, to discuss and to explain. We recognize the burdens this creates for faculties and members of the governing boards, but we think that, at least until new institutions can be created and placed in successful operation, it is a burden that must be cheerfully born in the interest not merely of reviving the Harvard that was but of establishing an even better one.

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