It's been over a year now since the Indian College dispute first came into the public eye, and over 280 years since it really began.
In March 1973, State Representative Charles F. Flaherty Jr. (D-Camb.) proposed a bill requiring Harvard to finance the educations of a minimum of 25 students. The idea for the bill arose out of a 1663 pact between Massachusetts Commonwealth's Commissioners and Harvard, in which Harvard was permitted to demolish its Indian College (used to house Indian students); in return, it would provide "rent-free" studies to Indian scholars. But by 1669, most Indians were living off college grounds in farmers' houses.
Flaherty said when he proposed the legislation that it was meant "to force Harvard to live up to its obligations to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
But the issue did not last long in the legislature. State Attorney General Robert H. Quinn decided that legislators couldn't comple a private institution to follow their mandates. So in April 1973, Quinn appointed a Boston Attorney, Daniel B. Bickford to investigate the case.
After studying the situation, Bickford recommended last January that Quinn initiate court action. Bickford further suggested that Quinn seek court action for an accounting of two 18th century Harvard trust funds for Indians: the Stoughton Bequest of 1701, and the Williams Trust of 1716.
Quinn arranged for a meeting between representatives of the university and the Native American Student Association in late January, to discuss possible court action. But now, four months later, the Attorney General has still not issued a decision on what action he will take.
The Indian College was a gift to Harvard in 1653 from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Indians and Others. Its purpose was to house Indian scholars, and Commonwealth Commissioners financed its construction. But the original college was destroyed to make way for Stoughton College, located on what is now the site of Stoughton Hall. The Commissioners gave Harvard a sum of 400 pounds sterling to construct Indian College. Members of the Native American Student Association estimate that interest accrued on this amount comes to over $2.5 million, and they'd like to see that money go toward educational grants for at least 20 Indian students.
One of the central problems in the Indian College dispute is the fact that no mechanism was ever created to enforce the agreement between the Commissioners and Harvard. As a result, Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the university, said recently, the university has no legal obligation to support Indian students. Steiner also said that under the legal doctrine of laches, a counterpart to the statute of limitations, "it would not be in the public interest, not be in the interest of the law" to uphold the pact.