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Harvard Meetings and Movements

By Thomas Geoghegan

FOR WITLESS pedantry it is difficult to match the Faculty's empty condemnation of the war last Tuesday. Their vote ignored the real strike concerns raised by undergraduates, graduate students, and teaching fellows. Even President Pusey has been more sympathetic- to the shock of many the Administration has come out further to the left than the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. One must credit the usually sluggish Administration for whatever progressive response being made so far. They, at least realize the stakes.

To some extent. Dean May has made a few feints to discover the student middle and remain visible. He took quick action, however inadequate on the issue of exams- a traditional prerogative of the Faculty. Likewise, Pusey and Dunlop seem more lubricated than usual.

Consciously or not, Pusey railroaded through the Faculty the Campaign GM proposal which would recommend to the Corporation that Harvard vote its proxy with the Nader forces. He squeezed off the effort to express even strangled protest to the motion, which is favored by moderate activists on campus.

In the Convocation. Dunlop had to overrule strong conservative sentiment to let the Mendelssohn resolution coexist with the Reischauer resolution.

Pusey has urged "every effort to accommodate interruptions in our normal procedures which may be occasioned by acts of conscience relating to our country's involvement in the war in Southeast Asia." He also demanded academic "responsibility" but left that open to definition.

May swallowed his dignity, if not physical fear, to attend Monday's mass meeting at Sanders. His "personal statement" on the crisis, though a bit inappropriate for the audience, was certainly honest and might have seemed reasonable in a different atmosphere.

The Administration is trying harder than it did last April, but that is not quite hard enough. Unlike April, Reading Period has removed the senior Faculty from the classroom and campus life. They are invisible now in a way only the Administration used to be. On Tuesday they passed two ambiguous motions which put them on record- unofficially, of course- against the war. No one cared. Their silence on the strike seemed calculated to divide the community. Buckley and Liller reported the majority sentiments in their own Houses but failed to put them as resolutions. MacEwen and Bowles, the Faculty "radicals," formulated an extreme and doomed set of demands. In the end, by going beyond the House meetings' request for optional exams, their demands added to the dismay and alienation felt by many students.

If the Administration is to move with student sentiment, it must be pushed by the Faculty. And the Faculty is scarcely prepared to even raise discussion.

HARVARD students must share the blame for the Faculty disgrace. They have failed to conceptualize the strike beyond the most blank and basic sloganeering- "politically organize," for example, Rendered indefinite by strike rhetoric, that phrase covers up an absence of solid content and specific goals. What does it mean to "organize against the war?" And organize whom? Strike rallies in Dorchester or mail-to-your-Congressman or just a march around the Yard? Most strikers are too reticent to nail these questions down.

David Riesman pointed out at Tuesday's meeting that not only Harvard but the rest of Massachusetts scorns Nixon and despises his Vietnam policy. In this state, it is hard to grasp what political activists should be active about. Both the Senators strongly oppose the war; the Massachusetts legislature declared it illegal, even before the invasion of Cambodia; the Mayor of Boston and the Governor are on record as vigorous doves. One may characterize such opposition to Nixon as regional. "Organize politically" sems redundant, at first glance. There is some, but not nearly enough challenge in Boston and Cambridge to release the energies of student protest.

The call to "organize politically," if it remains so vague, may eventually discredit the strike. May's strictures on anti-war protest, clumsily delivered at Sanders, keyed on this moot point. His program for write-your-Congressman met hooting and cat-calls. However trite the idea, it confronts all too clearly the limits on political action this month. The same night that May spoke, George McGovern publicly asked students to keep their protest germane to the challenge which will face Nixon in Congress. They should write letters, pressure Congressmen, and circulate petitions on the relevant issue. McGovern's appeal will arouse enthusiastic canvassing on many campuses, but it will also dishearten the activist majority at Harvard. It does not seem enough. And indeed, there is not really much to do.

Harsh and severe limits, built into the Constitution, hamper directionless bursts of student activism. Unlike their European counterparts, American students are unable to threaten or topple the government by simply moving into the streets. There are no instant crises, no mass plebiscite to organize. Congressional elections occur once every two years in November. Presidential elections, in which the political education of the nation takes place, occur once every four years.

Electoral politics are impossible this month- the McGovern forces may repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, they may filibuster military appropriations for Indochina, they may even attempt to censure the President for exceeding his constitutional authority. But they can scarcely force the Nixon government to resign and face general elections. U.S. politics are designed for the slow boil, not the blow-up. Political organizing (which, for simplicity, we may define as canvassing) feeds on election momentum. Organizing now requires a format like general elections to expend itself successfully.

So, by default, the alternative becomes organizing against the university. In this way, campus rage is self-contained and frivoled away on college presidents and non-issues. The most seductive non-issue is ROTC- even on campuses where it no longer exists- for it provides a context for "political organizing."

If Pusey himself burned down Shannon Hall, it would be great fun but irrelevant to the issue of the war. For better or worse, the universities are permanently caught up in the cash nexus of the federal government. To disentangle Washington and Cambridge would sabotage Harvard financially and force it to acquire an even more elitist, prep-school character. The truly political solution is to throw out the government, not prohibit university "complicity" with that government. In like manner, it would be dangerous to repeal the draft and turn the Pentagon loose with a professional volunteer army. Like the draft, university "complicity" makes the government sensitive and vulnerable to student protest. The political answer is to repeal the Pentagon, not repeal the draft.

The university-as-surrogate is for surrogate activists. Their analysis is old, stale, and badly put. To focus on university-government relations empties the phrase "politically organize" of its original significance. University politics is sandlot politics. It is not political, in the immediate or the ultimate sense; it does not pertain to the public sphere of votes and power. Students with a taste for maximum returns would do better to organize the Harvard alumni rather than ineffectual academics.

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