ALTHOUGH JAMES Q. WILSON often publicly favors academic freedom, for him to act in its defense is a noteworthy event for its rarity, if nothing else. But the Government Department's decision to stop holding a tenured seat for Henry A. Kissinger '50 also attracts attention on its own merits.
Harvard faculty members once active in the Federal Government have not usually escaped the entanglements that captured them in Washington. The return to Harvard of men who have become political celebrities generally marks only a shift in their public arena; they make no real recommitment to an academic life. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's recent interlude with us, which just ended as he took off for New Delhi, is one example of this, and John Kenneth Galbraith's current position as a seer-in-residence rather than as an economics professor is another. It seems questionable that the Henry Kissinger that Harvard would get back from Washington would be as useful to the University community as the one it sent to Nixon.
Any attempt to invoke academic freedom on behalf of Henry Kissinger's right to return to Harvard surely places a strained interpretation on that term. If academic freedom means nothing more than the freedom of academics to do as they please--to wander off for an unspecified number of years like a prodigal son, commit war crimes or participate in an immoral presidency--then it is difficult to defend. If academic freedom involved the freedom to advance opinions and theories violating the popular wisdom then it shouldn't be controversial.
YET IT CLEARLY SEEMS that the entanglement most threatening the University's ability to adhere to its liberal ideal of tolerance is its connection with the Federal government. Harvard's inability to support a radical economic critique--an odd contrast to its ability to employ a good part of the President's Council of Economic Advisers--is an internal failing. But holding a chair open for Kissinger past the mandatory two-year interval implies an unhealthy relationship to the government that carries its own penalties. A Faculty with, to put it charitably, divided interests, is only the most obvious of these.
Not only does holding Kissinger's chair open indicate an unhealthy University-government combination, but, more generally, the facility with which faculty move from Cambridge to Washington implies a crass and widespread misuse of Harvard's prestige. The incentives drawing Harvard professors to Washington do not exclusively center on self-improvement (greed), but the desperation with which those men cling to the prestigious designation "Cambridge intelligentsia" probably does.
The delight Henry Kissinger takes in his power only intensifies our distaste for his use of Harvard's prestige in his rise to stardom. And while the intricacies of his agreement with the Government Department will not "occupy graduate students for centuries", we are glad that it, too, has come to an end.