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The Demise of Benign Neglect

The University:

By Arthur H. Lubow

When President Bok last summer asked his assistant Steve Farber to study the various corporate responsibility proxy battles, there was reason to believe that the "benign neglect" policy of the Pusey Administration had come to an end.

Yesterday Bok proved that his staff has studied the questions more seriously than the Pusey Administration ever did. And for the first time, Harvard University gave its endorsement to two of the many proxy resolutions proposed by consumer organizations.

The Corporation voted for two disclosure resolutions. One would require General Motors to release information on its operations in South Africa, including its agreements with the government and its employment policies and wage scales for blacks. The other resolution calls for Ford to disclose data on automobile safety, pollution control and minority hiring.

The Ford resolution is a replica of the proposal that the Project on Corporate Responsibility entered on the GM proxy statement last year. Harvard abstained on that one. In the past year, the only new face in the Corporation is the face of Derek Bok. Since Bok is the only new input, he and his staff are clearly behind the change in output.

George F. Bennett '33, treasurer of the College, asserted yesterday that his own position has remained consistent on the Project's disclosure resolutions over the last three years. He has voted with management all three times. As a director on the Ford Board, Bennett was not expected to support the insurgent proposal.

Bennett found the Corporation more sympathetic to his views on the other Ford proposal. Harvard voted aguinst a resolution to expand the Ford Board of Directors to include women and representatives of employees, consumers and minorities.

In fact, Harvard voted against or abstained on every other proxy resolution. It rejected an AT&T resolution similar to the Ford one which called for a broadened board. It voted against two other GM resolutions. The University sided with management against proposals to create committees within Honeywell, Sperry Rand and ITT to supervise the transition from warrelated production to peacetime manufacture.

Harvard voted against an ecologically-oriented resolution to amend Kennecott Copper's certificate of incorporation, and abstained on resolutions requiring drug companies to label uniformly their foreign and domestic products, and to form committees to evaluate the contributions of their advertising to drug use.

So while Harvard did endorse two consumer-group proxy resolutions, it gave the familiar thumbs-down to the majority. The two it supported are disclosure resolutions, which are the weakest of the proposals.

But the Bok Administration has shown it will pay serious attention to proxy battles. Bok made that commitment last summer, and he has kept it. Most of the decisions do not go beyond what Pusey's Corporation would have approved. But under Pusey, the Treasurer's office had the critical voice; it would usually send in the proxy ballot before informing the Corporation that it had voted with management. Under Bok, the Administration considers the issues and publishes lengthy handouts to prove it.

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