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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
BACK IN THE 1950s, Massachusetts legislators disapprovingly dubbed Harvard "The Kremlin on the Charles." The University was then reputed to be a citadel of academic freedom during the McCarthy era. Within the last few months, however, evidence has emerged that Harvard's actions during those years were not as blameless as they seemed.
Sigmund Diamond, professor of sociology and history at Columbia University, and Robert N. Bellah '48, professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, both have charged publicly that they were victims of pressure and job discrimination while at Harvard during the early '50s. Both were then former members of the Communist Party. Since those allegations were made, several scholars have proposed that Harvard open its records to an independent researcher who could determine the true history of the University's actions during those years. Furthermore, several historians and sociologists of education have requested access to those files for research purposes.
Harvard officials have refused to abrogate the rule that requires University files to be kept confidential for 50 years, citing the need to protect individuals' privacy and the need for guaranteed secrecy to ensure candid communication within the University. But under the circumstances, an exception to that rule is warranted. Qualified researchers should have access to the files; researchers could agree to protect individuals' identities when necessary. The McCarthy era placed great strains on American institutions. It is imperative to understand how this University reacted to those pressures.
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