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The Old Negotiator Comes Home


By Philip Weiss

The last time William H. Lazonick, assistant professor of Economics, ran into John T. Dunlop, Lamonst University Professor, was four uears ago this spring at an evening seminar on the structure of American society.

Dunlop was then dean of the Faculty, and that night he gave a seminar whose subject Lazonick recalls as the greatness of the labor movement and the importance of collective bargaining.

Lazonick was then a graduate student in Economics involved in the effort by nearly half of the 2800 grad students to form a union, and the irony of Dunlop's message that night was that the dean was at the same time firmly resisting the demand by students for a collective bargaining agent.

"I remember I listened with enjoyment while there was a great deal of baiting of John by students--but that's always the case when it's a colleague and not myself," says professor emeritus John Kenneth Galbraith, who sponsored the series of seminars.

Dunlop did not think his position on collective bargaining contradicted itself, John B. Fox Jr. '59, assistant dean of the Faculty for academic administration, recalls. "He had a clear order in his own mind on that subject."

The students wanted a union to press their demands on financial issues, but Dunlop argued that student scholarships could not be regarded as a form of compensation, and that, as he said in an April 1972 Faculty meeting, "resort to a strike and picket line rather than reasoned discussion were not congenial to the academic community."

"The idea of exclusive representation, which was central to collective bargaining by blue collar workers and which would preclude any individual from reaching a particular settlement of his own problems except through an exclusive bargaining representative, did not seem to the Dean to be appropriate in an academic setting," the minutes of that meeting report.

Edward T. Wilcox, now director of General Education and a former dean of the grad school, says, "My interpretation of his feelings then were that he felt that there was a lot of amateurism in what they were doing. He was quick to speak and spoke at the beginning."

For all of Dunlop's bluntness and the leading position he took in making sure the union never got off the ground, his line was a conciliatory one.

Dunlop is a very "pragmatic" man, Richard B. Freeman, professor of Economics, says: "He's like a marriage counselor--well, is a marriage counselor liberal, conservative or what?"

In the spring of 1972, the marriage counselor proposed to the graduate students that they form a joint committee with administrators--a joint committee that, in the words of the Faculty's secretary, would "address itself to the multiple interests within a varied and large academic community."

The proposal never actually happened, but the story is indicative of the way Dunlop works. Verna Johnson, the durable administrative assitant to the dean of the Faculty, calls him a "mediator": "He would seek ways of getting at a solution by talking at great length, endlessly. I think he worked best sitting down and talking with people. And I'm sure he could outlast most people."

The venerable Galbraith says he gained respect for Dunlop by opposing him consistently in departmental matters within the Economics Department. "My experience has almost universally been losing," Galbraith says. "I've been impressed because he's such an artistic operator." Dunlop, he adds, always worked with the interests of the department in mind.

Wilcox compares Dunlop with an "old-school labor negotiator, a rough-necked shop foreman." He says of Dunlop's three-year deanship, "He was carrying all the balls--and I guess I mean that two ways--in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and still going down to Washington each week."

Dunlop's latest flirtation with the more important world in Washington ended this week, when he decided that the old standby, recourse to discussion, was no longer available to mend the gaping hole that President Ford had left in the web of labor-management cooperation that Dunlop labored to create.

Ford had vetoed a bill to extend the rights of strikers that he had earlier promised Dunlop he would pass. Dunlop's head was on the line: he had worked hard to get Ford's acceptance of the legislation, then had conveyed the president's assurance back to labor leaders.

So Dunlop resigned Tuesday, saying that the possibility for progress in the construction industry with him as secretary of Labor no longer existed.

The statement he released was long and overly-worded. There was one gentle stab in Ford's direction, but for the most part it was just a mealy-mouthed and conciliatory swan-song from a man who will undoubtedly return to Washington after he comes back to Harvard to perform some work, perhaps as a labor arbitrator.

As Lazonick says, "Dunlop's sort of one of the people who provides the link, one of the conciliators, between labor and management. Labor is kind of conservative, and the capitalists want to keep it that way. He's sort of the go-between, and he wants to keep that position."

Under Ford's veto, Dunlop lost that position, and he will come back, to work mainly at the Business School, in early February.

"He's pragmatic--that's what you call a man like him" Stephen Marglin '59, professor of Economics, said yesterday. "He's opportunistic, if you want to make it a pejorative characterization."

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