THE DEDICATION of the Kennedy School of Government last Saturday was a sorry start for an institution that boasts it will be able to keep Harvard University in touch with the "real world." For despite all the carefully prepared media fanfare, the speeches by notables and the celebrity gala that followed, the school's administration proved that it is sadly out of touch with one of the most pressing issues of that real world: the struggle for human rights in South Africa.
As more than 400 student demonstrators forcefully pointed out at the dedication ceremonies, the Kennedy School's decision to name its Public Affairs Library after Charles W. Engelhard -- a notorious financial supporter, and beneficiary, of the brutal gold trade in South Africa -- was a startling affront to all those who had hoped the University was sincere in its oft-stated concern for the oppressed in South Africa. School administrators, in accepting a $1 million donation from the Engelhard Foundation, clearly exhibited the same type of amoral, heartlessly opportunistic thinking that characterizes the worst decision-making in government today -- the type of thinking that, to read the school's catalogue, it is pledged to eliminate. At best, the school's decision was thoughtless, and at worst a frightening indicator of the ability of big money to legitimize even the grossest immorality.
The dedication ceremony also displayed the callous disregard of opposing viewpoints to which many members of the University community have become accustomed of late. President Bok, in his refusal to address or even recognize the existence of the peaceful protestors who attended the opening, yet again demonstrated his unwillingness to confront the South Africa issue openly and forcefully. Meanwhile, the often crude and threatening efforts of Kennedy School administrators to deter the protestors from having their say -- including their insistence that the demonstrators violated an "agreement" that never existed -- reflects a frame of mind that values the forms of pomp and ceremony over the substance of debate about meaningful issues. We sincerely hope that this reluctance to deal with reality will not continue to plague the school's administration.
Most important is the issue of what the Kennedy School should do about the name of its new library. Although school officials have done their best to cut off discussion of the topic, it is clear that the school's decision to honor as notorious a figure as Charles Engelhard is not consistent with the humanitarian principles on which Harvard was presumably founded, and to which it even paid lip service in last spring's Corporation report. Clearly, then, the Kennedy School should return the money to the Charles Engelhard Foundation and rename the library to honor a more deserving figure. Only then will the school be able to boast of training scholars to serve the public interest.