The Faculty's Quiet Revolution

The Strike as History

In April 1969, many honestly believed the revolution had come to Harvard. They saw the end of Western civilization, symbolized by 200 dogma-spouting students who took over a University building and rudely, physically, ejected a group of deans. But although the events of that tumultuous year did cause a revolution, it was not the one SDS had envisioned, or the conservative faculty had feared. Unnoticed at first, another and more lasting revolution took place: the Faculty asserted control and, for a few months, had more to say about running the University and shaping its future than even President Nathan Marsh Pusey '28.

Throughout 1968 and the early spring of 1969, tensions had been building at college campuses. Eruptions at Columbia and Berkeley reflected a growing student politicization and consensus about the evils of the Vietnam War. In the fall of 1968, Archibald Cox '34, Williston Professor of Law, appeared before the Faculty at Pusey's request to discuss the lessons Harvard should draw from the bust and riots at Columbia that previous spring. But as Harry Levin, Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature, recalls, "We hadn't learned much from what we heard from Cox."

Despite increasingly vocal student protest focused on the presence at Harvard of the military Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Pusey and the Harvard Corporation resisted and attempted to circumvent Faculty legislation calling for an end to ROTC's accreditation. Nor did the administration attend to other sources of friction from both students and Faculty members. Pusey--whom one former junior faculty member calls "single-handedly more responsible than any other person" for the April disturbances--avoided student contact assiduously. Nor was he more receptive to faculty members--most professors interviewed said they could remember having arode?, at the most, one visit to Pusey's office.

As these tensions grew, the prelude to the occupation of University Hall came in the form of a sit-in at Paine Hall in December 1968. One hundred SDS sympathisizers refused to move from the building, forcing the cancellation of a special Faculty meeting scheduled to discuss ROTC. The Paine Hall incident had a fairly peaceful ending--the students handed in their bursar cards after the meeting was cancelled and left the building. But the protest set in motion the faculty revolution.

Spurred by Faculty legislation, Pusey appointed a Faculty committee "to re-examine and report on the structures, procedures and the decision-making processes of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, including ways in which students might participate in reaching decisions. This committee, later known as the Fainsod committee for its chairman, Pforzheimer Professor of Government Merle Fainsod, was later to propose a broad restructuring of Faculty and student self-government--the most tangible and permanent outgrowth of the spring of 1969.


Although Pusey had been forced to appoint the committee for the purpose of proposing changes in the administration, he carefully hedged his bets; he selected a committee "heavily weighted to be supportive of the establishment," James C. Thomson Jr., then a junior faculty member who served on the committee, says. "They didn't know initially that Thomson would turn out to be the Bolshevik member of the committee or that Harry Levin would be my closest ally," Thomson adds. Levin seconds Thomson's evaluation of the predominantly middle-of-the-road sentiments of the committee members, but adds that events at Harvard that spring changed many members' viewpoints after they had been appointed.

Although the committee report would later recommend significantly increased student input into the University's decision-making structure, Thomson says members of the committee at first violently objected to student representation on the committee. "The issue of student representation was the first and overriding issue which consumed us, and this blew the committee sky-high," Thomson says. "Even the idea of non-voting student advisory members caused several members to say that if students were attached to the committee in any form they would resign. After one of these sessions I went to Merle Fainsod and said if students are not attached to this committee, I will resign," he adds.

The committee settled on the compromise of non-voting student advisers, and in its report effusively acknowledged their effectiveness. Thomson credits the presence of the students for what he calls the "radicalization" of the committee. "I began to watch professors who had only known students as barbarians in that throng below the podium, hearing words of wisdom out of the young, and they began to respect them," he recalls.

While the Fainsod Committee, out of the public eye, debated the issues of Faculty governing structure and student representation, students seized the initiative to make their voices heard. The events of April shattered the relatively calm, depoliticized security in which the committee worked. "The committee was set up too late for its purpose--if its purpose was to prevent an uprising. But the report was more liberal and humane because of what had happened. Some people had to have their eyes opened," Levin notes.

From the day of the occupation until the Commencement ceremonies in June, a stunned and angry Pusey made no personal appearance at the College. The president literally went into hiding; he left faculty, administrators and Corporation members such as Hugh Calkins '43 to assume leadership, and they vied with each other to produce statements condemning or defending Pusey's decision to call in the police. To a large extent, Fainsod Committee members assert, the committee filled this gap in central administration--mostly because although many Faculty members trusted no one, they distrusted the committee least. "The Fainsod committee helped to hold the University together," Levin says. Andrew M. Gleason, Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, recalls more modestly, "We became fairly important."

The committee's first task was to determine election procedures and tally returns for the Committee of 15, set up to investigate the causes of the occupation and to discipline the protesters. Both liberals and conservatives put up slates, while the Faculty met to debate Afro-American Studies, the Fainsod Committee struggled to count the ballots--which, Thomson says, persisted in adding up wrong. The need to juggle Faculty interests and maintain credibility kept the committee so busy it had to ask for an extension for their report, originally scheduled to appear May 1.

As the Committee of 15 gradually assumed the spotlight, its meetings boycotted and its very function protested by students, the Fainsod Committee slipped back into productive obscurity. As it's hearings progressed, the committee heard testimony from administrators and faculty members who detailed the problems with Harvard's antiquated governing structure, and the severe lapses in communication between faculty and administrators. "Harvard as a corporation was undermanned--many of the people who managed it were old graduates who stayed around and weren't qualified to run it. There was a general feeling there were not adequate channels of communication to the top," Levin notes. Thomson agrees, and says the testimony provided example after example of "horrendous communication." "What we learned in testimony was that Franklin Ford as dean of the faculty had no access to the Corporation and had to put any action of the Faculty in writing to Pusey. Pusey alone appeared before the Corporation to plead the case and no one knew what Pusey said to them, and that made the dean a pretty frustrated guy," he adds.

Although the Fainsod Committee was not charged with responsibility for changing University governing methods, Levin says his service on the committee convinced him of defects in the structure of the Corporation at that time. "The Corporation was a very small group of people--mostly lawyers--who were not in touch with what was going on, but who had complete autonomy," he says. Thomson notes that now the Corporation hears testimony from many different sources--in part because it was forced to confront a different vision of the University, one it hadn't known existed. "There was a very strong feeling abroad in the land that everyone should be in on the business of decision-making." Gleason says.

The Fainsod Committee report, released to the Faculty in October, addressed this concern. It recommended a number of structural changes designed to open up decision-making in the University, both to faculty and students. The Fainsod Committee set up the Faculty Council, the Commitees on Undergraduate and Graduate Education, the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life, and the Faculty docket committee. The report also suggested the present practice of consultation between administration and Faculy in selecting the University president, administrative deans and honorary degree holders.

In addition to the changes that survive today, the committee also recommended a Committee, on Students and Community Relations and re-activation of the University Council, a broader assemblage of deans and Faculty members than the Executive Council that Pusey consulted before the bust--although the Faculty formally approved these recommendations, it never implemented them.