A potential "proxy fight" between the management of General Motors and a group of Washington lawyers supported by Ralph Nader, automotive safety crusader, has forced Harvard into an uncomfortable choice of sides in casting its 287,000 GM stockholders' votes this year.
With the controversy still in its initial stages, however, George F. Bennett '33, Treasurer of Harvard College, has indicated that the University sees no reason to oppose the GM management at the annual stockholders' meeting in May.
Early last month, Nader called for public access to the workings of large corporations like GM, a voice for the general public in their decisions, and more research into the consequences of their actions.
The Washington group, called "Campaign to Make General Motors Responsible," has submitted nine resolutions to the company's stockholders for consideration at their annual meeting this May.
If General Motors places the resolutions on the proxy statement sent out in April, stockholders-including Harvard and other Ivy colleges-will have a chance to vote on them. If the resolutions are excluded, the group has vowed a "proxy" fight this Spring to corral enough supporters.
In the next two days, the Harvard Young People's Socialist League (YPSL) will send a letter to the Harvard Corporation asking their support of the "Campaign GM" proposals.
The major resolutions would:
enlarge GM's Board of Directors from 24 to 27 seats, adding three representatives of the public. The group's candidates are Betty Furness, President Johnson's special assistant for consumer interests; Rene Dubos, a University of Chicago biologist and environmentalist; and the Rev. Channing Phillips, a civil rights leader in Washington, D. C.;
change the GM charter to restrict the corporation to operations which are not "detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of the citizens of the United States...";
set up a "shareholder's committee" to study GM's impact on the country, including an assessment of its efforts to produce pollution-free engines and safe cars, its effect on national transportation policy, and, in general, the manner in which it handles its economic power.
Previous studies by Nader have always been blocked by GM's refusal to open its files to the general public.
Harvard owns 287,000 shares of GM common stock, worth between $15 and $20 million dollars. This is one-tenth of one per cent of the total GM common stock.
No Neutral Ground
In submitting the letter, YPSL president John D. Stephens '70 said "We are looking for a response-where Harvard stands on the issue and why they hold that position. The Corporation can't be neutral. They have to vote one way or another-with Nader or against him."
"My off-hand view is that GM has done a good job for the public, the stockholders, and the employees," Bennett said yesterday. "I'd have to see some pretty persuasive evidence to make me vote against the management."
"What we're interested in in GM-for investment, income, and practical value-is a management that is excellent. Just as we want excellence in education, we want excellent investments," he added.