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Credit Where Due


By Robert Decherd

READING PERIOD BEGINS tomorrow, and for the first time in almost a decade, Harvard's student population will spend the last month of the Spring term worrying about grades and finals, with tittle regard for the passionate political concerns of their forebears.

Following the collapse of the Graduate Student Union strike in March, it was apparent that only something as maliciously intriguing as the Watergate debacle could arouse even token political discussion. At that, the tenor of Watergate gossip is one of unsurprised amusement on the part of student activists glad to see their old nemesis, Richard Nixon, taking it on the chin.

Student unrest at Harvard began, really, with criticism of President Pusey in the early sixties. The Crimson ran a week-long series of editorials, later known as "Pusey Week," lambasting the President on every conceivable front. But the series was reflective of, more than disparate from, the general student opinion of Pusey.

The Presidency of Harvard is an extremely difficult job which only a few talented masochists can handle, and soon masochism may be a more important qualification than talent. The President's constituencies are so diverse, and each is so convinced of its own importance, that a steady middle course appears almost impossible.

So it is reassuring to find that President Bok, as he nears completion of his second year in office, continues to act in good faith on the egalitarian beliefs he professed in Fall 1971.

With Bok's undergraduate constituency, one has only to look to the ACSR's first-year record for evidence of his sincerity.

Last Fall, Bok shifted the time-consuming task of studying how Harvard should vote its stock proxies to a four-member Corporation subcommittee. The subcommittee was instructed to make all proxy decisions and to give consideration to the recommendations of a faculty-student-alumni advisory group.

Bok named this advisory group the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, which was impressive enough in and of itself. Wary students understandably adopted a wait-and-see attitude; after all, who could imagine four Harvard Corporation members heeding an amalgam of students, faculty and alumni?

But midway through this year's round of proxy decisions, the Corporation sub-committee has consistently displayed a willingness to take the ACSR seriously. Already, it has followed ACSR conclusions in voting for disclosure resolutions at Caterpillar Tractor Co., Phillips Petroleum, Standard Oil, Union Oil, and, in part, General Electric. The proxies represent stock worth over $25 million.

On two other resolutions, the Corporation subcommittee has departed from the ACSR but has abstained rather than vote with management. For both the Kodak and ITT resolutions calling for disclosure of political contributions, the Corporation said that unless such contributions were of "proven significance," it would hold back.

At the same time, however, the sub-committee did vote against management at Standard Oil and Union Oil, where the subcommittee said political contributions had been shown to be significant. It also issued a statement calling for legislation to force corporations and other large membership groups -- notably labor unions and public interest groups -- to disclose all political gifts.

Moreover, the subcommittee, n supporting the shareholder resolution at Caterpillar, followed the ACSR even though it disagreed with some of the disclosure provisions. Hugh Calkins '45 wrote Caterpillar explaining the Corporation's decision to vote against management, despite the subcommittee's reservations about the "full extent of the disclosure requested" and about a provision calling on the company to send each stockholder disclosure information.

This remains a significant stance, considering that the resolution called for disclosure of Caterpillar's support of the South African government, the company's treatment of nonwhite workers and its plans for investment in the Bantustans (the largely undeveloped area where South Africa says it will permit African self-rule).

Even more important was the Corporation's decision, following the ACSR's lead, to call on Phillips Petroleum to withdraw from Namibia and on General Electric to disclose information on its South African operations.

In sum, the Corporation's actions so far this Spring represent a drastic shift from two years ago. Those were the days when President Pusey was still at the helm and relatively innocuous shareholder resolutions at General Motors were deemed too radical. If one accepts the Bok Administration's premise that Harvard can act most responsibly by retaining its stocks and trying to influence management through proxies and other means, then the President is due some credit for Harvard's reversal since 1971.

There is no doubt that Bok has been working, since the Gulf controversy and limited disclosure votes against Ford and G.M. in 1972, to make Harvard's proxy policy responsive to the entire community, students included. And his very presence has helped bring the change in the Corporation's attitude toward proxies.

Box provided considerable impetus for the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC), conceived of and headed by his assistant, Stephen B. Farber '63, and it is this organization upon which both the ACSR and the Corporation subcommittee rely for much of their information about social issues. The IRRC has affected other institutions as well; the most notable, perhaps, is Cornell, where this spring the trustees have voted proxies against management at ITT, Mobil Oil and Kodak.

In combination, the IRRC and the internal process represented by the ACSR and the Corporation subcommittee have increased the likelihood that Harvard's proxies will be voted on the basis of merit and not on blind prejudices. Regardless of how the Corporation votes this week on IBM, Continental Oil and Mobil -- and there is more room for disagreement with the ACSR this time -- the precedents set this Spring reflect a thoughtfulness previously missing in proxy policy.

It would be nice, of course, if Harvard went all the way and backed every shareholder resolution. But realistically, Bok has taken the University far beyond its previous position of negligence in a short time. And he has included students in the decision process.

Considered with his efforts to get the Faculty to revamp the Commission on Inquiry to hear student grievances, Bok's shareholder program hints that he is genuinely interested in student opinion. That is more than can be said for his predecessor or for the Faculty majority, which likes to scoff at and downplay any student participation beyond the adolescent level.

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