"IAM PRETTY," E.B. White's Charlotte informed Wilbur the Pig. "Nearly all spiders are rather nice-looking. I may not be as flashy as some, but I'll do." And in the clutch, when Mr. Arable was going to cut Wilbur up for pork, she did. "Some pig," she wrote in her web. "Terrific. Radiant. Humble." Mr. Arable let him off with a blue ribbon.
Which brings us to President Bok, the humblest president Harvard has. He's nearly always radiant. And Senator Charles Percy (R-Ill.) wanted him to be the special Watergate prosecutor, so he must be terrific. When you come to think about it, his stands on controversial issues are rather nice-looking. But they happen about as often as Radcliffe loses at tennis, so they're sometimes hard to remember. Bok's 1972 statement about Portuguese colonialism was one of the best and most recent examples--Bok probably wasn't used to his job yet, so the statement was pretty. And if it wasn't as flashy a piece of moral leadership as Yale's Kingman Brewster might have come up with, why not chalk that up to Connecticut's crudity?
Besides, it was Bok's first crisis, and he handled it like a pro. When 33 members of the Pan-African Liberation Committee seized Massachusetts Hall and demanded that Harvard sell its stock in Gulf Oil (whose payments for drilling rights in Angola helped finance Portuguese rule there) Bok didn't hesitate for a minute.
Confronted by an array of options that ranged at least from denouncing Portugal and selling the stock to forcibly evicting the protestors as Nathan M. Pusey '28 had done in 1969, Bok boldly issued a statement that seized the dilemma by all its horns. "I am writing this statement to confront squarely the vexing moral issues involved in Harvard's holdings of Gulf stock," he explained.
For practice, or out of excitement at his own energy, Bok confronted another vexing moral issue--one there wasn't even a building occupation about, although 2000 students did vote to strike about it a couple of hours before Bok's statement came out. "Many people believe that the United States is engaging in inhuman acts in bombing North Vietnam," Bok said squarely. With that vexation out of the way, Bok went on to reject PALC's demand for divestiture. Divesting "would have been easy and gained an obvious popularity in some quarters," Bok explained, but Harvard had nevertheless courageously decided "not to turn away from the problems of black Angolans," because "this course would accomplish nothing to help those who are oppressed."
Bok didn't give a detailed explanation of what Harvard would do to help those who were oppressed, aside from hanging on to its stock in Gulf. Instead, presumably on the theory that actions speak louder than words, he had Harvard ask Gulf to release some statistics. Gulf did.
If people in Angola still felt oppressed, at least now they would know there were up-to-date figures on them--and, besides, Bok had Harvard send Stephen B. Farber '63, his special assistant, to bring back a report and cheer Angola up even more. As if that still wasn't enough, Bok announced that he was personally offended by American policies which indirectly strengthened Portugal's grip on its colonies, and appealed to PALC to "join with me in finding a co-operative way of calling attention to the wrongs of Angola."
NATURALLY, with PALC still inside Mass Hall, a few skeptics suspected that Bok's anguish over the wrongs of Angola and his determination to call attention to them were partly a matter of expediency. But nothing could have been further from the truth--for even today, more than two years later, Bok still has never taken the statement back. Of course, he still hasn't found an ideal way of fulfilling it, either. It might have seemed as though last month's coup by Portuguese officers displeased with their country's colonial policy, followed by widely-publicized continuing ferment in both Portugal and its African colonies, gave Bok an excellent chance to carry out his pledge.
Bok's statement last week that he was "not at that moment intimately informed" of the situation in Portugal might have seemed a shade inadequate from someone so sternly determined not to turn away from the problems of black Angolans. But when Bok explained that he was out of town when the coup took place, everything became clear. Once you leave Cambridge, everyone knows how hard it is to find a New York Times.
And yet not even this difficulty stopped Bok from squarely confronting a few vexing moral issues. "Since two years ago we have established a structure" for issues made vexing by Harvard's stock holdings, he explained. "I have not been directly involved in that." But for all his modest pretense of non-involvement, Bok made it plain that his concern for Angola and his insights into its future are as searching and as profound today as they were in 1972. Angola's future, he explained, is "clearly in a state of flux."