"Far from being the conservative ballast on the Mass Hall ship of state, Steiner is a man with impeccable liberal credentials that date back to his undergraduate days when he actively supported Adlai Stevenson for President."
DANIEL STEINER '54 is Harvard's new man with the bullhorn. He has succeeded Archibald Cox '34, Williston Professor of Law, as the University's premier crisis-handler, and his name is in the news with an astonishing predictability.
The Mass Hall occupation last April featured Steiner in his most prominent role during his two year tenure as general counsel to the University. He was on the scene minutes after the dawn takeover. He read statements over a bullhorn to the occupiers. He handled the legal technicalities involved in obtaining a court order against the black occupiers. Following the occupation, he coordinated the Administration's efforts to identify and discipline the protesters.
Steiner has run interference for the Administration countless times since 1970. He organized Harvard's security for last April's SDS convention at Memorial Hall. He was the Administration's troubleshooter during a May 10 antiwar sit-in at the Littauer Center. He appeared in local courts to represent the University in complaints against a trespassing former student. During a February 24 mill-in at University Hall, he strolled into the tense atmosphere in Dean Epps's office and told 50 black occupiers that President Bok would meet with a group of them later in the evening.
Steiner's visible connections with crisis and discipline have lent credence to the theory that he is a Mass Hall hardliner. He is seen in some quarters as a cool manipulator, a wily maximizer who tirelessly and relentlessly spends his time ferreting out student disrupters. Let Derek Bok make the high-minded speeches--Daniel Steiner is behind him wielding the hatchet.
In an interview last week, Steiner indicated that this image of him is distorted. Far from being the conservative ballast on the Mass Hall ship of state, Steiner is a man with impeccable liberal credentials that date back to his undergraduate days when he actively supported Adlai Stevenson for President. He ran as a reform Democrat in a New York City Assembly district in 1962 and later headed a Federal civil rights agency. He presently supports George McGovern, and has contributed to the Democratic nominee's campaign.
Steiner discussed the apparent conflict between his work as a disciplinarian and his liberal political beliefs. Crisis handling "is not work that I enjoy," he said. "But it is work that is very important to the University." Steiner believes deeply in the importance of a "free and open University," a phrase he repeats continually. His rational liberalism fears disorder and places a value approaching sanctity on the virtues of free speech and academic freedom. He has the lawyer's unswerving commitment to duty and orderly process, and he works hard, even if he cringes at some aspects of his job. In this sense, his duties at Harvard are a logical continuation of his career before he became the University's first general counsel.
AS AN UNDERGRADUATE here in the early fifties, Steiner was active in Democratic party politics and firmly opposed Joseph McCarthy's brand of hysterical anti-Communism that then raged in the nation.
"I wrote a letter condemning McCarthyism that was published in the New York Times," he recalled.
Much like today's young politicos, Steiner preferred to work for Democratic candidates in actual campaigns rather than become active in the campus Young Democrats. He remembers driving Cambridge voters to the polls in the 1952 election. "In retrospect, I can see that the Cambridge Democratic politicians were primarily interested in the local races, and cared little for the Stevenson campaign," he said.
Steiner graduated magna cum laude, and following a year at the University of London, entered Harvard Law School. After law school, he held a one-year fellowship at the New York City Bar Association and then joined the New York firm of Patterson, Belknap.
"I initially entered private practice for two reasons," Steiner said. "I wanted to gain experience and I wanted to have some kind of base outside government before perhaps entering public service."
During this period, Steiner was active in the Lexington Democratic Club, a reform Democratic organization based in the city's upper east side. He staged his foray into electoral politics in a Ninth District Assembly race in 1962.
"That year was a bleak one for New York Democrats." Steiner recalled. "Robert Morganthau made a miserable showing against Rockefeller in the gubernatorial race--and that dragged down the rest of the ticket."
Steiner and his wife Prudence campaigned for the Assembly seat for seven months. Although it is somewhat difficult to imagine the generally sober general counsel glad-handing voters, he says he enjoyed the campaign.