Harvard takes on the world

It has been a peculiar year for the most powerful university in the world.

In the same year that Harvard lost the entire John F. Kennedy Memorial complex to the University of Massachusetts, it also made contracts totalling several million dollars for development and consulting work with at least eight foreign countries.

In the same year that the University was largely unsuccessful in its attempts to influence state and federal legislation, Harvard was able to keep its unions at bay in the halls of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Harvard has always wielded a unique kind of power in the outside world, and certainly a great deal of that power has always stemmed directly from the vast amount of resources--both human and capital--available to the University. But although Harvard's clout and thus its reputation are considered without equal world-wide, such factors often mean little to critics of the University who have day-to-day contacts with Harvard: while the Shah of Iran may have unmitigated respect for an institution he has never seen, Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Velluci stands ready to pave over the Yard.

Harvard's once ambitious, if often willy-nilly expansion program into the surrounding community has virtually ceased. "We're not in a stage where we have any significant territorial ambitions," President Bok says. But behind his statement lies the fact that community pressure, increasing governmental antagonism and funding difficulties have combined to prevent Harvard from expanding, even if it wants to.


Harvard is beginning to focus on more distant spots, dispatching an unprecedented number of planners and contractors overseas. With a great deal of excess baggage lying around, funding money rapidly dwindling and job markets tight at home, it seems logical to send people to the same place where all our money went a few years ago--the Mideast, for example.

There is no doubting Harvard's ability to attract big international grant money. Bok says offers are being turned away faster than they are being accepted by the University; they are pouring in even without embarrassing fundraising trips to the Persian Gulf to solicit contracts and contributions for Harvard.

According to one Harvard administrator, the oil crisis and the resultant world redistribution of income caused a mad dash of American university presidents over to the Persian Gulf in search of grant money; presidents were often nonplussed to run into several of their colleagues at once in the lobby of the Riyadh Hilton. But one president nobody ever ran into over there was President Bok. He didn't have to go; they came to him.

"We have no pecuniary interest in all this," Bok says. "We have not made any request for donations from the governments we are dealing with."

The governments Harvard is dealing with all have one thing in common--their countries are underdeveloped and sorely in need of training and technological assistance. For its part, Harvard has embarked on its recent spate of overseas commitments with a missionary zeal--the predominant feeling on the part of most University administrators and faculty members involved in these recent deals is that the projects can only serve to "open up" repressive regimes and to provide a new source of enlightened leaders and technicians.

Harvard's most widely publicized foreign endeavor in recent memory is its two contracts totalling nearly $1 million with the government of Iran to draft a master plan for a 500-student graduate research facility near an Iranian national forest.

The Reza Shah Kabir University (RSKU) project--which involves the dispatching of Planning Office personnel to Iran and the establishment of a permanent base of operations in the nation's capital--has gone "reasonably well" so far, according to Dr. Chase N. Peterson '52, vice president for alumni affairs and development.

The only real difficulty this and other Harvard projects encounter stems from the nature of the foreign regimes. Many members of the Harvard community have argued that if Harvard is to remain faithful to the principle of open inquiry then it cannot ignore the fact that its undertakings may be providing shiny new buildings to house an otherwise closed and repressive educational system.

Bok says he carefully scrutinized the potential Iranian project before giving it the final go-ahead in 1974; he decided that, for various reasons--none of them ideological--the University's role in Iran would remain relatively circumscribed.

"We decided to assist in planning, but not in actual operation," Bok says. "The moral question is a matter we did take up, but, I think that in the long run, our involvement in Iran should be a source of enlightenment." He adds, "Any other view would be self-defeating."

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