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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Closing the Ranks

BRASS TACKS

By James L. Tyson

THIS SPRING many of the Faculty have become possibly the strongest force outside the Harvard Corporation attempting to influence Harvard's investment policy. In its two open discussions and in an open letter calling on Harvard to promote corporate withdrawal from South Africa, the Faculty became a definite participant in what President Bok terms the ongoing debate on South Africa. Instead of continuing passively to observe the wrangling of the Corporation and anti-apartheid groups, a significant number of the Faculty joined the debate over the University's responsibility as a shareholder to non-whites in South Africa, voiced its dissatisfaction with current University policy and proposed an alternative policy that would promote corporate withdrawal from South Africa.

Faculty opposition evolved throughout the Spring and climaxed when 140 professors signed an open letter calling on the Corporation to push for corporate withdrawal from South Africa. After discussing the issue in two full Faculty meetings, professors that had advocated policies ranging from the initiation of stockholder resolutions to full, immediate divestiture from stock in corporations doing business in South Africa, eventually compromised on a graduated, five-step policy designed to bring about corporate withdrawal from South Africa. Under the terms underlined in the letter Harvard would stop investing in corporations operating in South Africa, support or initiate shareholder resolutions calling for corporate withdrawal, in corporations whose stock they currently hold, publicize the rationale behind its actions, seek support of other shareholders, and if these efforts fail, adopt a policy of "strategic divestiture."

PRESIDENT Bok, however, remains skeptical of assertions that corporate withdrawal will benefit non-whites in South Africa. But in doing so he overlooks, as the anti-apartheid groups claim, nearly every major black leader in South Africa. And he seems oblivious to the contentions of Rev. Desmond Tutu, a black South African leader who will receive an honorary degree at Commencement, that foreign investment in South Africa maintains apartheid.

But the Faculty letter urging withdrawal is as significant for what it represents within the Harvard community as for what it attempts to promote in South Africa. The letter articulates a clear dissatisfaction with the Corporation's current investment policy. It represents a willingness of large numbers of Faculty members to compromise their opinions of what may be the best investment policy for the sake of most effectively showing their disenchantment with the Corporation's current policy. And it shows their desire to establish a clear, coherent and conscionable policy that takes into account more than just the fate of Harvard's investment portfolio.

With this concern for non-whites in South Africa, for the way Harvard handles its investments and with its highly respected position both inside and outside the University, concerned Faculty are perfectly placed to augment the efforts of student activists to force change in Corporation policy. Outside of Harvard, the core of Faculty members that drafted the open letter plans to discuss corporate withdrawal with House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill (D-Mass.), other congressional leaders and directors of large corporations operating in South Africa.

Within the University the Faculty is not only a critic of the Corporation's investment policy, but a potential arbitrater between student anti-apartheid groups and the Corporation. Next year faculty and students must coalesce to force the Corporation to accept a more coherent, well-drafted investment policy. In such a coalition the Faculty, of all University groups, can best articulate the anti-apartheid arguments students have pressed on the Corporation for the last two years. The emergence of many Faculty members as the "third force" at Harvard presents the most significant advance anti-apartheid groups at the University have made since they began organizing. The task next year remains the same, however--the next people to convince are still the members of the Harvard Corporation.

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