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Indulgences and the Papal Bull


By Michael A. Calabrese

AS I SAT recently in a Hum 5 lecture, Harvard's One True Wise Man eloquently reduced Martin Luther's 95 Theses to anal compuslion. My thoughts scattered as he pushed on to Luther's other obsessions. Luther's essay on The Pagan Servitude of the Church reminded me of the unholy mess the Harvard Corporation has made of the Engelhard Library controversy. The Capitalist Servitude of the University was pointed out clearly last semester by Southern Africa Solidarity Committee (SASC) member Joe Schwartz, who said: "The church stopped selling indulgences in the Middle Ages, but the Harvard Corporation wants to ressurect that practice."

While the Harvard community calls for divestiture, the Corporation encourages investiture. If the corporate curia surrounding Pope Derek arrogantly ignores the student demand to stop peddling immortality for money, it only invites students to nail their theses on Johnston Gate instead of meekly relegating their efforts to the pits of Pusey.

"Indeed, this monstrous state of affairs arose at a time when, contrary to Christian love, we began, in our folly, to pursue worldly wealth," Luther wrote a century before his pilgrim Protestants founded Harvard. This monstrous state of affairs at Harvard arose again as the Corporation in its folly began to pursue monthly dividends ahead of veritas.

The Corporation has expounded two primary reasons for its refusal to change the name of the Engelhard Library and for its reluctance to make a general policy regarding gift-giving.

First, as Daniel Steiner '54, University counsel, argues, reneging on the Engelhard contract ex post facto would not only "impugn the good motives of the Engelhard Foundation," but would be poor "donor relations." Who would be willing to donate money if they knew the University would investigate the morality of their lives? President Bok said last month, "This type of thing should not be done ad hoc." This argument seems reasonable. Though it does not absolve Harvard's guilt for naming the library after Engelhard in the first place, it does, as Bok implies, point to the need for a general policy that would apply to all donors.

Secondly, although Steiner admits it "would be an obscenity to name a Hitler Chair of Jewish Studies," and the University did publicly refuse a $1000 present from a Nazi party official in 1934, "once you move past the extremes, however, it becomes very difficult to judge."

Thirdly, in our society, it is generally understood that the quid pro quo for philanthropy is immortality. Furthermore, Steiner asserts, the University considers these commemorations as bestowing gratitude, not honor. A two-volume, 1000-page book entitled The Endowment Funds of Harvard University lists thousands of funds, big or small, that were automatically named after the man with the money, good or evil.

ALL THIS SOUNDS very reasonable--if you are a corporate president or counsel. The students and others here expect more than textbook public relations gimmickry from a rich, non-profit and supposedly moral institution like Harvard. Yet, although the Corporation publicly refuses to apply political or moral criteria to its donors, Bok and the members of the Corporation do negotiate with and even reject the bearers of certain politically questionable gifts, albeit only in extreme cases. For example, Steiner this week revealed Bok's previously undisclosed rejection of a large donation from a "rather repressive government that seemed to be trying to use Harvard to gain legitimacy in the U.S."

Harvard also negotiates the terms of donations. In 1971, the Corporation accepted $1 million to endow a chair in Korean studies from the Korean Traders Association, a quasi-governmental business group that practices the Tongsun Park style of public relations. Steiner said when the Koreans began dictating that its newly purchased professorship teach only economics, Harvard balked until the KTA agreed to leave educational decisions to the Faculty.

It is time the University established a policy for public, moral consideration of gifts. Any such policy should include the following:

Major contributions linked with honoring (or gratifying) donors should be reviewed by a committee established by the Corporation with student and Faculty members;

There should be an end to direct links between donations and naming buildings and chairs. The naming of the donation should not be part of the gift contract, though it would be understood that in most cases the donor could request and receive name recognition.

To avoid the unpleasant, self-defeating and nearly impossible task of judging each donor's morality, the committee need not investigate the source of the money. It should consider only two factors: the motive behind the gift and its real effect on the University and the world. It is far preferable that Harvard put even illegitimate earnings (as from apartheid) to a good cause (a school for public servants or a chair in Third World studies) than that it be reinvested in those illegitimate enterprises. By these criteria, the Engelhard Foundation's money could be kept, but the name must be changed--the motive behind the gift may have been pure, but its effect is to make legitimate (to future public servants and the public) America's complicity in apartheid.

Controversial gifts can be anticipated and handled diplomatically. Harvard will probably loose far more money because of the student demonstrations this spring than if oppressors knew their gifts must be given anonymously;

It is not unreasonable to expect that in the long run many good and liberal students will decide to enroll elsewhere if the association between our public policy school and apartheid sticks in the public mind.

LUTHER NOTED it is the people of God, and not the tyrants in Rome, who truly comprise the Church. Harvard University--all the students and Faculty--should themselves move to rename the library rather than waiting for the high priests in Mass Hall to ordain the policy.

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