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Dan Steiner: New Man With the Bullhorn

By Daniel Swanson

"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.

"The campaign experience was interesting," he said. "But it was always disconcerting to be shaking hands in a movie line and talking to people from Idaho who couldn't vote in the election."

Steiner finished second with about 40 per cent of the vote. He is proud of his performance: "I was the second highest Democratic vote-getter in the district, even though my name was at the bottom of the ballot."

THE STEINERS then journeyed to Washington, where Steiner joined the State Department. Due to a fortuitous pair of job vacancies, within six months he became Chief of Legislative Programs for the Agency for International Development (AID).

He was responsible for helping to steer foreign aid bills through Congress. He appeared at Congressional hearings to advise State Department officials, including then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, about the legal ramifications of aid bills pending before the committees.

In the middle sixties, Congressional liberals were joining conservatives in directing increased fire toward the foreign aid program. Steiner, always a hard driver, was pushed to extremes: "We were in hearings once from 10 a.m. one morning until 5:30 a.m. the next day. I was so tired one morning I had difficulty coordinating myself when putting on my tie bar."

In 1967, Steiner left State and became general counsel for the Equal Opportunity Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent Federal agency charged with administering a section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The EEOC had no coercive power, so Steiner had to employ informal pressure to increase the pace of minority hiring in large concerns. He and his staff traveled to New York and Los Angeles and held widely-publicized hearings into employer racial and sex discrimination.

"We would ask a list of banks or corporations to testify about the percentage of minorities and women on their payrolls," he said. "We would always schedule a company with a good record first to prevent other companies from successfully arguing that not enough qualified minority people were around."

Steiner worked closely with the NAACP during this time. Because the EEOC could not file suit on its own behalf, Steiner filed many "friend of the court" briefs for the black organization's Legal Defense division.

AFTER THE 1969 change in national Administrations, Steiner came back to Harvard as secretary to the special University Committee on Governance. The Committee was established following the 1969 student strike to explore new methods of administering the University.

In the Fall of 1970, President Pusey appointed Steiner to the newly-formed post of general counsel to the University. He was charged with responsibility on a University-wide basis "for the legal aspects of the University's affairs."

This catch-all job description has in practice gradually expanded to include matters far removed from strictly legal considerations. In addition to watching out for Harvard's interests in contracts, insurance, local tax policy and endowment policy, Steiner must deal with the tricky problems of discipline and relations between the Faculties.

"My job runs all over the lot," he said. "The lawyer's role within the University has expanded. Almost any problem has its legal component and people feel confident with a lawyer."

Another reason Steiner's duties are so eclectic is because, as he explained: "I tend to get involved in odd-job kinds of problems that do not clearly fall under anyone else's jurisdiction."

Steiner said that only about 10 to 15 per cent of his time is spent in crisis-handling, although he explained that the prominence of such activity tends to give a markedly different impression.

He said he is concerned that the growth of disciplinary mechanisms within the University will destroy his vision of a free and open community.

"We can't have standard criminal processes in a University," he said. "We don't want a police department, appeal courts and things of that nature."

DESCRIBING THE Administration's role during last year's most turbulent period, the six-day occupation of Mass Hall, Steiner said: "We felt it crucial to keep as many people as possible informed about what was going on."

He said President Bok met with Senior Tutors, House Masters and the Faculty Council, and that he himself conferred with a group of Faculty from what was once called the liberal caucus.

The Administration's waiting game paid off in two ways. Not only was the occupation ended without violent confrontation, but, in stark contrast to the 1969 upheaval, it did not alienate large segments of the Faculty and student body. The Administration effort to keep the community informed clearly helped to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.

During the crisis, Steiner worked clearly with the rest of President Bok's whiz kids--Charles U. Daly, Stephen S.J. Halt, Walter Leonard and Hale Champion. Although--Bok's young assistants initially give the impression that they are a close-kait, long-standing coterie, Steiner said they were almost total strangers until 1970.

He also dismissed reports that a chasm had opened between Mass Hall and Dean Dunlop and his advisory in University Hall. "There is a very close working relationship between Mass Hall and University Hall," Steiner commented. "Dean Dunlop is close friends with President Bok and we have great respect for him."

Steiner said the two Halls were working closely on the present plans for revamping the CRR and added: "I've never heard of a jurisdictional dispute between us."

He served last Spring as acting Master of Eliot House while Alan E. Heimert '49 was on leave. Though well-received in the House and happy with the job, he said he would not like to be a permanent Master while his children are still young. "All the attention lavished on small children in the Houses tends to spoil them," he said.

Steiner said he plans to stay at Harvard longer than he has worked in previous jobs. "I enjoy the University," he said. "My wife and two children like it here."

The general counsel said he does not think he has moved to the right politically in recent years. "I do have less confidence in the ability of massive government expenditures to deal with problems," he said. "I see the importance of decontrolling some of these efforts." Steiner's role at Harvard is not some conservative aberration, but another position in which he advances his view of the world consistent with his previous career experiences.

Steiner's function as a visible disciplinarian will undoubtedly be a point of contention in years to come. Those who do not share his views, however, would do well at least to respect the vigor with which he has attempted to translate them into reality

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