Looking Backward, 1971-1970

The News of the Year in Review Teach-In Disruption

The pro-war "Counter Teach-In" seemed an unlikely crisis at first: it was the first significant Harvard political event to be initiated by conservative students in more than five years. And before it was over, it had set off a debate about freedom of speech and academic freedom that reached into every corner of the University, produced the strongest pro-Administration response among undergraduates in recent years, and resulted in disciplinary action against nine students found guilty of participating in the disruption.

The "Teach-In" was announced on the weekend of March 19 by an ad hoc group, formed for the occasion, called Students for a Just Peace-an amalgam of conservative students including virtually all of Harvard's fledgling chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and the right-wing elements of the Harvard-Radcliffe Young Republican Club. Their announced list of speakers forced the "Teach-in" into the forefront of the community's consciousness, for it included Bui Diem, South Vietnam's Ambassador to the United States, Dolf Droge, a White House advisor on Indochina, and Anand Sandering Ham, Royal Thai Ambassador to the U. S. Campus radical groups-particularly SDS-had made half-hearted attempts to disrupt a liberal antiwar teach-in a month earlier. The stage seemed set for a massive demonstration by radical groups.

Tension decreased on Friday, March 26, the day of the Teach-in, when it was learned that SJP's announced list was not completely accurate: the South Vietnamese Ambassador told reporters that he had never planned to attend the Teach-in, and that a minor embassy official would represent the South Vietnamese government. And the Thai Embassy in Washington said that it has never heard of Anand Sandering Ham-the scheduled speaker, it turned out, would be Anand Panyarachun, Thai Ambassador to Canada, whose Embassy was quartered in the Sanderingham Building.

But regardless of the speakers' list, the lines had been drawn, and when the doors to Sanders Theatre were opened, most of the 1200 people who flooded in were antiwar students who had come to disrupt or to see what would happen. More than half of the crowd-which included delegations from SDS, Radcliffe-Harvard Liberation Alliance, and Youth Against War and Racism, a radical group with no Harvard chapter-would participate, to some degree, in the disruption.

Tension crackled around the auditorium like electricity when the speakers walked in SDS began a rhythmic chant, U. S. OUT OF VIETNAM, BUTCHERS OUT OF HARVARD. J. Lawrence McCarty, an official of the American Conservative Party serving as moderator for the Teach-in, attempted to introduce the first speaker. After it had become plain that he was not being heard, Archibald Cox '34, Harvard's troubleshooter, appeared from the rear of the stage, walked to the rostrum, and begged the crowd to quiet down. Near tears as he spoke, he asked the disrupters to "answer what is said here with more teach-ins and more truth, but let the speakers be heard." The crowd chanted more loudly, and Cox retired to his observation post again.


The first scheduled speaker, Dan Teodoru, Eastern Director for the National Student Co-ordinating Committee for Freedom in Vietnam, walked to the microphone and began baiting the crowd. He offered to relinquish the microphone to any member of the crowd who wanted to speak, and got two takers. While the second held the microphone, Harvard police chief Robert Tonis approached Cox and warned him that some members of the small crowd outside had broken a firedoor and were attempting to force their way into the Theatre. Cox then asked McCarty to end the meeting. The speakers made their way out of Sanders Theatre through the steam tunnels and the Teach-in was history.

The aftermath was prolonged, however. Immediately after the meeting broke up, Cox told reporters that the University would discipline every person it could identify as a disrupter. The next day, the Faculty Council unanimously approved a strongly-worded statement condemning the disruption and calling for disciplinary action against those responsible. President Pusey and President Designate Bok issued similar statements.

Discipline proved a more formidable problem than it had seemed, however. Although the University had engaged two commercial film crews to provide identification, the film turned out to be worthless-someone had mixed up the instructions and the photographers turned their cameras on the speakers rather than the audience. Harvard was finally forced to buy a fifteen-minute film from United Press International.

While it prepared its cases, the Administration sent its top representatives-Dean May, Dean Dunlop, Cox, and Bok-around the Houses to explain to students why, in their view, the disruption had been an intolerable violation of the right of free speech which demanded punishment if Harvard was to be preserved as an academic community in which the rights of all could be observed. They had an casier time of it than they might have expected: the student body, for the most part, agreed that the disruption had been unacceptable.0