Farewell to the 'New Mood'

Raising a cry against apartheid

The word around University Hall the past few years was that the days of student protest had vanished in a cloud of pre-professional anxiety. The word was wrong.

The student movement against the University's holdings in companies with investments in South Africa began slowly in the fall, as small groups of students gathered outside meetings of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) during the preparation of that group's report on Harvard's investment policy. But interest soon began to snowball; the small gatherings swelled into the hundreds, and about 400 students and Faculty attended a Corporation open hearing on investment policy in March.

Soon it was clear that the ACSR final report would not contain the minimum demands of a number of student anti-apartheid groups: immediate divestiture of holdings in banks lending money to the Pretoria government, and sponsorship of shareholder resolutions for withdrawal of corporations doing business in South Africa. The ACSR instead recommended a case-by-case review of all University holdings, with an eye toward divestiture of the most offensive stocks. The ball passed into the Corporation's court.

More than 1000 people gathered outside Pusey library on April 23, the date of the closed Corporation meeting that would decide Harvard's stock policy for the year. Some protesters, dismayed by the Corporation's failure to announce its decision immediately, surrounded President Bok as he tried to make his way across the Yard at the end of the day, and watched as the University police whisked him away in a patrol car; others took up an around-the-clock vigil outside University Hall and vowed to stay there until a final decision came down.

When that decision was finally released three days later, the student reaction was stunning. The Corporation's refusal to support stockholder resolutions in all cases, and its rejection of immediate divestiture of all stock in banks lending money to Pretoria, touched a raw nerve. That night, 3500 students--more than half the undergraduate population--took part in a torch- and candle-light procession across the University campus, chanting and singing to protest the decision.


The next day, several hundred students refused to leave the steps of University Hall, where they had spent the night, and forced College administrators to spend the working day elsewhere. The mood throughout all the demonstrations was peaceful; although police photographed some of the earlier protests, officials said they would not take any disciplinary action against involved students.

The aftermath of the protests saw President Bok, questioned by students at the Quincy House senior dinner, declare that divestiture would not be "the most ethical or the most effective" course of action, as hundreds of students staged a silent protest outside the dining hall. Then, perhaps the inevitable: reading period took its natural toll, and widespread student activism took a back seat to exam-period blues. In that sense, the "new mood" theorists could claim a victory--but only a temporary one. Members of student anti-apartheid groups promise a new round of protest soon: perhaps at this year's Commencement activities, and certainly by the time next semester gets under way.