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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
WHEN student activism lulled following the chaos of the student strikes of 1969 and 1970, many observers were quick to hail the demise of campus politics and the growth of alcohol, drugs and apathy. Last Spring the political somnolence of Harvard students was shaken, if not to full wakefulness, at least to a semi-conscious state.
Three events were mainly responsible for this shaking one of them the war was well trod territory, while the others--an imbroglio over investment in Portuguese Africa and a controversy over a cut in pay to teaching fellows--were fresh ground. On top of these, a host of other issues embroiled those on the campus who were specifically concerned with them and sometimes those who couldn't really care less but had nothing better to do with their time.
The familiar heat of antiwar fever surged sharply but briefly, after President Nixon's decision to escalate the bombing of North Vietnam and mine the country's harbors. Yet peace activity was both slower and less forceful at Harvard than at many other colleges throughout the nation. While many schools were whipped into nearly instantaneous rage following Nixon's March 30 speech, students here failed to mount any serious antiwar actions until a week later when a loose coalition of antiwar groups called a mass campus meeting to plan protests.
The first of these mass meetings--which were held in Sanders Theatre with overflow audience accommodated in Lowell Lecture Hall--drew about 2200 people. But this group quickly dwindled as the resolutions put to vote appeared increasingly contradictory and the debate meaningless. The most notable result of the first meeting was the declaration of a five-day University-wide strike with a stipulation that a second mass meeting be held at the end of that time to consider further action.
MANY who attended the meeting and who listened to it broadcast over Harvard radio station WHRB were unclear about what constituted a strike. One faction said it meant a boycott of all classes; another group said it meant a general orientation toward antiwar activity--classes would not necessarily be skipped unless there was a conflicting peace protest planned. In any case, by the end of the five-day strike period only about 10 per cent of the student body were cutting classes--just about the normal percentage during the academic year.
Attendance at the second mass meeting was sharply reduced: only about 700 people showed up and most of them didn't stay for long. The debate bogged down over the very question of whether a continuation of an announced boycott of classes was a proper course for the protest to take. The meeting initially passed a resolution terminating the strike, but later, as the attendance dropped, it reversed itself and passed a resolution continuing the strike indefinitely.
The weary protesters adjourned the meeting before any vote could be taken on resolutions calling for substantive antiwar actions. And the next morning, class attendance showed that the call for a strike had gone almost entirely unheeded. Antiwar protests continued among smaller, specialized groups, but the attempt to give the movement a mass. University-wide base had failed.
AMUCH MORE DRAMATIC conflict--and one which ran concurrent to and may have sapped some of the strength of the antiwar movement--was the controversy surrounding Harvard's ownership of 683,000 shares of Gulf Oil Corporation stock. A group of black students, calling themselves the Pan-African Liberation Committee (PALC), called upon the University to sell its shares in Gulf--valued at about $18.5 million--and thus sever its connection with the company the group said was causing the greatest harm to the people of southern Africa.
PALC accused Gulf, which maintains oil drilling facilities in the Portuguese colony of Angola, of providing crucial revenues and support for the Portuguese government in their suppression of independence movements in their African colonies. After seven months of delays by the Administration while they weighed alternative approaches to the situation, PALC staged a two-hour mill-in at University Hall, the campus's main administrative building.
Shortly afterward, President Bok's assistant on investment policy, Stephen B. Farber '63, issued a report presenting the arguments given by each side in the dispute. The report was given to the Harvard Corporation, the University's highest governing body which holds responsibility for all investment decisions. After considering Farber's arguments, as well as meeting with the black student leaders, the Corporation decided not to sell the stock. Instead, it said it would await further factual information, which Gulf promised to release, and a trip by Farber to Angola, which it said would provide first-hand information on the situation in Africa.
The blacks, infuriated by the Administration's response, decided to occupy Massachusetts Hall, the building which houses the offices of the President and his staff. At about 5:30 a.m. the day after the Corporation's decision was announced, 35 students entered Mass Hall through a first-floor window and said they would not leave until Harvard sold its stock.
THE OCCUPATION quickly gathered support among the University community, with faculty as well as students--sometimes numbering as many as 1000--marching around the building in support of the occupiers. While the blacks inside the building read announcements and played soul music over a make-shift public address system set up in a second-floor window, supporters maintained a picket line around the building 24 hours a day during the occupation as a safeguard against a police bust. The commotion was so great that some freshmen in Yard dorms adjacent to Mass Hall temporarily moved to local hotels--at University expense.
From the start of the occupation, the Administration followed a sit-tight policy, preferring to pursue increasingly severe legal sanctions against the demonstrators rather than use police power to evict them. And despite the worries of some frantic letter-writing alumni who scorned the trespass on sacred University property (Mass Hall is Harvard's oldest brick structure, built in 1720), the strategy paid off. Only a week after the occupation began, the blacks decided to vacate the building rather than face heavy fines and jail sentences.
"These sentences would remove us from the struggle," the last voice to come over the loud speaker explained. "The issue is Harvard out of Gulf and not Mass Hall."
The wheels of University discipline then began to turn, but they yielded one of the most tame and puzzling verdicts ever delivered. The Committee one Rights and Responsibilities, itself a frequent target of radical attacks, decided against any punishment for any of the occupiers. Instead it handed down what it called a suspended requirement to withdraw. This meant that all the students were told their offense merited a suspension from the University for a year, but that because of their strongly held convictions and the non-violent nature of their protest, the faculty suspended the punishment.
That same week, the academic year ended and the issue was successfully defused, at least until school reopens this month. A controversy is likely to arise when Presidential assistant Farber issues his report on his trip to Angola this summer. The report, which will be given to the Corporation in time for their September 11 meeting and released to the public a few weeks later, is expected to take no stand on what the University should do with the Gulf shares. Instead, Farber said last month that he plans to present the arguments of both sides as he has discovered them to be, and any first-hand information he has found which supports either side. The blacks are not likely to be pleased with anything short of a strong denunciation of Gulf, and a subsequent Corporation decision to sell the stock. The probability of this seems small, and the issue remains one to watch in the coming months.
ANOTHER CONTROVERSY which arose last Spring and which may explode again this year, began when the Faculty of Arts and Sciences announced the elimination of a special tuition assistance scholarship for teaching fellows. The elimination of the scholarship amounted to a cut in pay for many of the University's 1000 teaching fellows, the graduate students who assist professors in teaching most undergraduate courses.
The University excused the measure as part of an overall move toward increased financial stringency, but many graduate students felt the University was tightening its belt around their nocks.
The scholarship's elimination succeeded in consolidating the normally fragmented graduate student populace. Five days after the announcement of the cutback, a group of about 200 grad students launched the Graduate Student and Teaching Fellow Union, which was to grow in membership to nearly 1200 within a month.
The Union voted to make four demands: reinstatement of the Staff Tuition Scholarship program, recognition of the Union as the role bargaining agent for graduate students and teaching fellows, cancellation of a planned tuition increase for third-year students, and a full disclosure of the University's operating budget.
To put force behind their demands, the grad students declared two "work stoppages," one lasting one day, the other two. The work stoppages included picketing of University classroom buildings, and many undergraduates skipped classes in support of the Union.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, headed by Dean John T. Dunlop, defended the University's position, but agreed to informal talks with representatives of the Union. The Administration wanted the talks to proceed on the level of scholarly debate: the Union wanted nothing short of collective bargaining. After four informal sessions, the grad students walked out.
THE UNION leadership then called for a vote for an official strike. A majority of the Union's membership voted in favor of striking but the figure was short of the 60 per cent mandate required by the Union's constitution for passage.
Looking back on the year, Barbara C. Herman, a teaching fellow in Social Studies and a member of the Union's steering committee, said that the only way the Union could win its demands was through continued collective action during the upcoming academic year.
Dean Dunlop has written to the steering committee that he wants to "establish procedures by which further discussions can be fruitfully carried forward." But the Union has so far rejected his overtures, saying: "The only type of meeting which we would consider is one in which we meet as a recognized union for purposes of collective bargaining."
Dunlop, an expert in labor relations and a seasoned labor negotiator, has repeatedly stated that he believes collective bargaining has no place in an academic community.
To the Union, however, the need of graduate students to be representated by a recognized union is a central assumption, not an issue peripheral to their other demands.
Neither side is likely to give in without a flight, and if the Union is able to pull itself together in the new school year, the Harvard campus is likely to be rocked by the graduate students' issue once more.
ONE OF THE NOISIEST protests--and by far the most prolonged--was a year-long attack by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) on Psychology Professor Richard J. Herrnstein. Herrnstein--previously a virtual unknown on the campus outside of his specialty--was catapulted to public attention in September, 1971, when SDS made him the target of their campaign against racism after he published an article on intelligence in The Atlantic Monthly.
The article, entitled Simply "I.Q." said that a virtually hereditary meritocracy based on intellectual abilities will arise as contemporary political and social goals are realized. Herrnstein believes that our society is evolving distinct classes based on intelligence, and that the I.Q. gap between the upper and the lower classes is increasing. This belief in based on his conviction that intelligence is 80 per cent inheritable.
In his own words, his theory "points to a future in which--social classes not only continue but become ever more solidly built on inborn differences." He says that as the social barriers of the past, such as race, religion, nationality, title and inherited wealth, are knocked down by liberal reforms, actual social mobility will be blocked by "innate human differences."
What angered SDS so much about the article was not what it said, but the implications they saw in it concerning difference in intelligence between blacks and whites. In his article, Herrnstein cautiously evaded answering the question of what causes the commonly observed statistical difference in I.Q. scores between blacks and whites.
INVERTING Herrnstein's logic, SDS concluded that he was saying that current poorer classes are intellectually deficient, and thus the group equated Herrnstein with Berkeley geneticist Arthur Jensen and Stanford engineer William Shockley who say outright that blacks are the intellectual inferiors of whites. The clear implication in Herrnstein's article, SDS said, is that blacks must remain poor because they are genetically inferior.
Herrnstein's actual thoughts on racial differences in intelligence only came later, when he told The Crimson:
"What I think on the question of racial differences is this. First of all, there is a demonstrated difference in the scores of blacks and whites on intelligence tests. This has been shown by study after study. Second, there are also some scraps of evidence that this difference may be genetic. But finally, there is overwhelming evidence that blacks have been discriminated against. And it is altogether possible that this discrimination has affected intelligence test results."
"What the question boils down to is how much of the difference is genetic," he continued. "At this point we just can't tell. The difference in test scores could conceivably be entirely due to environmental factors. The genetic factor could be zero."
SDS pursued the issue nonetheless. Throughout the Fall semester, the group picketed and leafletted. In Herrnstein's main class, Social Sciences 15, "Introduction to Psychology." Many faculty members were incensed at the protests, which they considered to constitute personal harrassment.
In November, more than 100 faculty members--including some of Harvard's most prestigious luminaries--signed a statement which appeared as an advertisement in The Crimson supporting Herrnstein's right to teach his theories and denouncing the SDS protests. The statement termed the protests "brutish," and accused SDS of attacking Herrnstein personally through "false and offensive placards, leaflets, picketing and threats to disrupt his classes."
SDS's strongest protest against Herrnstein occurred in March, when 25 members of SDS noisily pursued Herrnstein for 20 minutes after he left his lecture in Soc Sci 15. As a result of the protest, Herrnstein and Dean of the College Charles P. Whitlock pressed charges against the demonstrators, alleging "intense personal harassment." The case--which was heard before the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR)--ended in a deadlock but his publishers were handed out.
Since the CRR hearing, the protests have quieted down, largely because SDS began to realize their Herrnstein campaign had almost no support among the student body. SDS itself has degenerated since its heyday in the late sixties into little more than a noisy splinter group, enjoying little if any student support.
ANOTHER FACULTY MEMBER was the subject of an attack, but in this case the source was not radical students: it was the U.S. Government.
Samuel L. Popkin, assistant professor of Government and an expert in Vietnamese affairs, was called before a Boston grand jury empanelled to investigate crime surrounding the Pentagon Papers case. Prier to coming to Harvard, Popkin had worked with Daniel Ellsberg '52, the self-acknowledged distributor of the Papers.
When called upon by the jury to testify on his knowledge of the leak of the Papers, Popkin refused, saying the information was gathered "in his capacity as a scholar, author and teacher," and that disclosure would violate the confidentiality of his sources in-his-research.
The case seesawed back and forth in the courts all last year, and seemed far from a conclusion in August. At times it looked as though Popkin would face immanent imprisonment: at others, the government appeared to be retreating at full speed. The case is likely to drag on well into the coming year.
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