Harvard takes on the world

But Bok acknowledges that the Iranian project and several others like it raise questions serious enough to prompt Harvard to embark upon an overall foreign policy re-evaluation during the next few years.

The urgency of such a policy initiative is accentuated by the fact that Harvard is being approached by more foreign governments now than ever before--and, needless to say, by more than any other university in the world.

At this point, the only clear line of policy utilized by Harvard in evaluating foreign projects is a sort of ad hoc calculation of costs, benefits and capabilities. As Bok puts it, "It's a kind of trial-and-error process, and only time will tell whether the kinds of things we are doing are appropriate, or should be repeated elsewhere."

Bok is anxious to put the brakes on projects which would unnecessarily drain professorial and planning manpower away from Cambridge. "I don't think we'd do such a good job if we took on the role of operating an institution so far away once it is planned and built," he says.

Harvard's perception of its role in bringing enlightenment to the underdeveloped world is perhaps best expressed by Edward L. Keenan '57, professor of History, who earlier this year was appointed, on an independent basis, to the RSKU board of governors.


"We reach out to underdeveloped countries, we pass on what we think is good for them, and we respond to their requests for technology and culture as best as we can," Keenan explains. "Harvard doesn't have machine guns--we're not dealing so much with governments as with people, and for the most part, the long-term hope of anybody who believes in universities is that they are good for children and other living things."

Keenan acknowledges that "at a certain point, the University will have to orchestrate the ad hoc positions, maybe get a conductor--we have to face the crucial question of whether this is going to become an international university or not."

There is, apparently, no avoiding the issue of increasing international interdependence, and the ancillary notion that Harvard possesses a desirable, highly marketable commodity. In 1974, the University established the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID) to coordinate international projects of an interdisciplinary nature. The institute is currently engaged in projects in Indonesia, Bolivia, South Korea, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, and Iran.

The HIID projects bolster Harvard's status as the world's most respected educational consulting and planning firm. Lester E. Gordon, HIID's director, says the institute "is tending away from large national planning projects toward sectoral projects in health, education, and urban and rural planning." But the conclusion remains inescapable--Harvard has, by any standards, become an international force to be reckoned with. The funding of Harvard's international projects--the $2-million Kenya agricultural deal currently in the works is a good example--is often itself international in scope. (In the Kenya project, the funding is coming from five nations and the United Nations.)

While the HIID projects are not substantially draining Harvard manpower away from Cambridge--HIID recruits most of its technicians and field personnel from outside Harvard--the very existence of the institute raises much larger questions concerning the future direction of the University's role in international projects. Despite the assertions of Peterson and Bok that Harvard's first priority is research and teaching in Cambridge, international commitments seem to be growing. Where they will end--or when they will begin to be governed by a coherent University-wide policy that gives attention to questions of the appropriateness of commitments to particular regimes--remains uncertain.

Many feel Harvard's increasing overseas involvement may be due, at least in part, to the drying up of funding sources at home, and even to the general increase in federal regulation of higher education. According to one participant in a recent abortive Med School-Saudi Arabian project, terminated apparently for a combination of "moral" and financial reasons, "when the [financial] going gets tough, the toughest get going--overseas."

Neither the administration nor Keenan will agree that the need for new financing is the rationale for burgeoning overseas commitments, but few will deny that Harvard does not face as pleasant a situation on the home front as it does in the international sphere. For a University that always seemed capable of getting its own way through subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure on local and national governments, the surrounding community and its unions, the mid-seventies have brought a number of new power configurations that will require Harvard to take a long look at its relationship with the outside world.

The same institution called upon to build research facilities in Third World countries couldn't muster enough political clout in its own community this past year to keep even part of the proposed Kennedy Memorial complex in or near Harvard Square.

Harvard lost a possible half-share of the memorial complex to the University of Massachusetts at Columbia Point in November after protests from Cambridge residents--backed by environmental legislation--forced both the museum and archival portions of the memorial from Harvard Square.

At the time of the Corporation's decision, Charles U. Daly, Harvard's outgoing vice president for government and community affairs, who had spent two months attempting to put together a compromise proposal acceptable to all involved, said that "the library board--not Harvard--had the responsibility of making the decision."

Recommended Articles