A History of the Strike

IF PEOPLE tried to rationally explain Harvard, a new dean of the Faculty warned in 1963, it "would come down in a shower of blood." But the events of the next five years--especially the rising tides of the civil rights movement and American involvement in Indochina--induced increasing numbers of students to disregard Franklin L. Ford's warning and try to make sense out of Harvard anyway. To some of them, Harvard made considerable sense--but not so much for its service to education or truth. Harvard, they felt, was training students to accept and eventually help run a system they disliked because they believed it managed people's lives and on occasion--as in Indochina--thousands of people's deaths as well.

By the fall of 1966, when 800 protesters forced Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara to take questions about the Vietnam war on the hood of a car outside Quincy House, a significant minority of Harvard students were ready--some of them anxious--to disregard Ford's warning. The immediate sequence of events that led to the Strike didn't start for another two years; but a radical discontent began to simmer long before that. In the spring of 1967, the teaching fellows--whose successors would provide the Strike with its five demands--began the first attempt to unionize Harvard academics since the 1930s. Like the more militant Graduate Student and Teaching Fellows Union that followed it four years later, the Federation of Teaching Fellows was interested in traditional union issues--especially a pay raise to $160 a fifth. But the attempt to organize was a sign of the times, like the CIA's canceling its spring recruiting drive for fear of a demonstration. Or 71 Harvard students pledging publicly to refuse all military service while the United States fought in Vietnam.

Or Vietnam Summer, a nationwide antiwar canvassing group whose local affiliate, Michael Walzer's Cambridge Neighborhood Committee on Vietnam, collected 8000 signatures for a referendum on the swift return home of all American soldiers in Vietnam. About 39 per cent of Cambridge voted for the resolution, and both doves and hawks claimed victory.

A week after the October 22, 1967 march on Washington, the one Norman Mailer '43 described in The Armies of the Night, 300 Harvard students imprisoned in Mallinckrodt for seven hours a recruiter from Dow Chemical, the principal manufacturer of napalm for use in Vietnam. Even SDS was caught by surprise. Its executive committee had called for simple picketing. But the 375 students who voluntarily turned in their bursar's cards to the administration adopted four demands: no on-campus recruiting by Dow, the CIA, or the U.S. military, and no disciplinary action against the demonstrators. President Nathan M. Pusey '28 called the demands "simply a non-document" with "no status at all," and 81 undergraduates were put on probation.

"Harvard is involved in the War in Vietnam like any other agency or organization of the American people," Dean Ford told protesters. A week after the Dow sit-in 150 picketers greeted recruiters from the Marines and the Institute for Defense Analysis. A Crimson survey found 94 per cent of Harvard's students opposed to American policy in Vietnam, with 38 per cent favoring immediate with-drawal.


When President Pusey's annual report denounced the "Walter Mittys of the left," and the university announced that a Dow recruiter would be back in February, 200 students satin at University Hall--Harvard's first sit-in in an administration building. Other students shared some of their concerns. The senior class, inviting a Class Day speaker for the first time, asked Martin Luther King, citing his "dramatic linking" of Vietnam and the plight of American cities. King was shot the next week, and his widow replaced him at commencement.

But the issue responsible for bringing things to a head--for opening up and unifying the new perspective that had been developing since the early '60s, finding expression in antiwar activity and struggles for women's and blacks' rights and alienation--didn't really surface till the fall of 1968.

The politics of Harvard's attitude toward the Reserve Officers Training Corps were nothing short of byzantine, but there were two major anti-ROTC positions--that ROTC courses, not being up to Harvard's academic standards and being taught by instructors beyond Harvard's control, had no place in the university's catalogue; and a position held by SDS that ROTC's purpose was to staff an army used to violently repress popular movements such as the Vietnamese revolution, that there was no "right" to violent repression, and that ROTC therefore had no "right" to exist in any form. A hundred SDS sympathizers held a sit-in in Paine Hall before the Faculty's scheduled December meeting.

Overruling the Ad Board's call for making the demonstrators withdraw from the university (the first time the Faculty didn't uphold an Ad Board recommendation), the Faculty placed 57 students on probation--letting them stay at Harvard, but reducing the scholarships some of them held and substituting loans.

In February, the faculty voted to make ROTC extracurricular--which would probably have meant ROTC would leave Harvard altogether. It also agreed to set up a standing committee on Afro-American Studies, with a degree program to follow. The Harvard Corporation withdrew ROTC's academic credit, as the faculty asked, but it set about trying to negotiate a new extracurricular ROTC contract.

IT'S IMPORTANT for understanding the Strike to understand what might be called 1969's moderate student mood. SDS never won the allegiance of anything like a majority of Harvard students. What it did succeed in doing was raising issues and articulating concerns that moderate students felt more tentatively. Even moderate students talked about Harvard in ways that might have been unthinkable a few years before and less pervasive a few years later--for instance, with a feeling of student powerlessness before Harvard's "governing board of a few rich people," as Jay Epstein '69, a onetime member of the H-R Policy Committee who collaborated on its moderate anti-ROTC statement, put it recently. For many such discontented students, the unexpectedness and brutality of the Bust appeared to confirm radical contentions: students really were powerless. Real power remained in the hands of a corporate state which would use whatever force it needed to quell student demonstrations just as it used whatever force it needed in Indochina. And the supposedly liberal university's respect for tolerance and orderly procedure was just a facade to be cast aside when its administrators felt threatened. "Nobody believed that it would happen," Epstein said of the Bust. "It was what mobolized the students more than anything, the knowledge that they really were powerless."

"What happened afterwards was even more phenomenal," he added, speaking of student unity and openness--"it was really something good to see, a lot of people walking around talking to each other"--and the "strikingly orderly way" the strike meetings went, 11,000 people following parliamentary procedure--"which was especially important because the justification for calling the police was to preserve order." The Bust brought moderates like Epstein to accept in even larger part than they had before the radicals' criticism of what they saw as the university's false cloak of orderly neutrality--and it made them join the Strike to try to get the university, if not in active opposition to what they considered oppression, at least closer to the liberal ideals it professed.

THE WEEK after spring vacation, President Pusey--who'd recently announced that "the current notion that the military-industrial complex is an evil thing does not correspond with reality"--promised that the Corporation would "do everything possible to keep ROTC." In protest, 450 SDS sympathizers met to vote down--three times--an anti-ROTC building occupation. Instead, 300 SDS people marched to Pusey's house--Jessie L. Gill, a militant member who acknowledged last spring that she'd been a CIA infiltrator, pushed a guard aside--and tacked six demands to his door. Three of the demands dealt with ROTC; the other three with university-community relations, an issue to which no one outside the later dominant but as yet still embattled Progressive Labor faction of SDS had hitherto paid much attention. The six demands were:

Break all contracts with ROTC immediately, and make no new ones;

Replace all ROTC scholarships with university scholarships;

Restore all scholarships to the Paine Hall demonstrators;

Roll back rents in Harvard-owned buildings to their January 1, 1968 levels;

No destruction of black workers' homes for expansion of the Medical School; and,

No destruction of University Road apartments for construction of the Kennedy School of Government.12When the police made their Bust, the first thing they did was to herd reporters and photographers into a single room so they could not watch the subsequent action. This was the last picture Crimson photographer Tim Carison was able to take of the Bust.

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