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Grad Student Could Face Theft Charges

By Margaret A. Shapiro

The case of Jeffrey Nelson, a seven-year graduate student in American History who is alleged to have stolen 3000-5000 books from Widener and other Boston-area libraries, will shortly come before the Administrative Board of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).

The fact that many of the recently discovered books belonged, according to library officials to the University of London library system and Boston-area college and public libraries--only about 1500 came from Widener--may make Harvard more likely to prosecute the case in criminal court as well as within its own disciplinary system, sources in the University said yesterday.

Sources familiar with the ad board procedures said yesterday they believed expulsion was probably the minimum action that the University would take.

The theft of such a large number of books is considered by law to be grand larceny, Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, said yesterday.

When contacted twice in the past week, Nelson, who is supposed to receive his Ph.D. this June and who recently signed a two-year assistant professorship contract with Claremont Men's College in Pomona, Calif., first denied the book theft allegations saying, "No, No I don't know anything about that," and last night refused to speak to the Crimson.

It is uncertain whether the allegations against Nelson will affect his contract as an assistant professor in Political Sciences at Claremont and officials at that school could not be reached for comment last night.

The University discovered the books last Tuesday in Nelson's office in the Van Serg building--the old Reserve Officer Training Corps building--and evidently impounded them at that time, sources say.

The volumes, which cover a wide spectrum of subjects in the social sciences, are currently being inventoried at Widener and the library hopes by the end of the week to have "hard facts about the ownership of the books." Louis E. Martin, director of the University Library, said last night.

Steiner said last week he expects Harvard to decide sometime this week how it will treat the case. Steiner would not comment further on the case yesterday.

Nelson has been studying under Bernard Bailyn. Winthrop Professor of American History, although his thesis--and his job offer next year--are more in the field of British political science. Bailyn was unavailable for comment last night.

According to the Adams Club Directory of Harvard Historians, which is put out by the graduate students in the History Department, Nelson has been writing a thesis entitled, "Beyond the Lockean Paradigm: Ideology and the Established Order in England from the Glorious Revolution to the American Rebellion."

Nelson is widely considered to be one of the most talented graduate students to come through the History Department graduate program in several years.

Oscar Handlin, University Professor, said last night that it is very unusual for a graduate student who has not finished a dissertation to be offered a job so soon. "It means he has special qualifications," he said.

University and library officials will not disclose how the theft occurred or was discovered, though sources say the overflow of books in Nelson's office--many of which were his own, including quite a few new publishers' review books--may have easily caused enough curiosity to cause someone to report them.

An unidentified friend of Nelson's said last night that among the books "impounded" by the library were "a vast number" that are Nelson's personal property.

He is alleged to have told friends who commented on the large number of books in his office that he had a friend in Widener who told him when the library was having its sales.

Douglas W. Bryant, director of University Library, said last week that the Harvard University police have been involved with the case since the books were discovered.

William A. Lee, acting director of the University Police, could not be reached for comment last night.

About five years ago a student tried to steal the Guttenbug Bible, one of the first books ever printed by moveable type, from the Widener library. He was discovered only after falling, with the book, out of the library window, hurting himself in the process.

Although after that incident security in the library was increased, Martin said there is no way a library "can protect itself against this kind of individual. We would have to use the most stringent conditions and they sometimes aren't appropriate to a research library.

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