'Grave Threat'


To the Editors of the Crimson:

At this moment, the gravest threat to the integrity of the University in its history is being posed. That threat comes, not from outside the institution, but from the central adiminstration, from the President himself. Two weeks ago the Crimson reported that the University was reviewing its "patent policy," and that Mr. Steiner, the University's Chief legal officer had "visited" a meeting of the Faculty Council in this connection, although the matter would not be considered formally until the next Council meeting. What the University is attempting, however, is not an innocuous readjustment of its patent policy, but a revolutionary new business relationship with faculty in which some professors will become business partners with the University. In effect, the University will become a major financial backer of the research of professors whose work is likely to produce a commercial profit, the work being carried out on University time and in University facilities. Mr. Steiner's "visit" to the Faculty Council was clearly to test the atmosphere and to introduce the plan with a minimum of fuss. Indeed, the University has already tried to sequester a major block of space in the new Biochemistry and Molecular Biology building for one of its prospective entrepreneurs. Fortunately the Department balked at giving one of its members such extraordinary status, but the campaign has only begun.

The prospect that faces us, if the administration succeeds in buying a vested financial interest in the work of some faculty, is an exceedingly unpleasant one. Having invested substantial sums in the work of Professor X in the hope of reaping great financial rewards, the administration will necessarily attempt to protect its investment by giving preference in space, career advancement, support of graduate students, and voice in further faculty appointments to its business partner. How will the University behave toward Professor Y who is working on the same research subject as X but who has her or his own commercial enterprise in competition with Harvard, Inc.? The scenario is not imaginary. Professor X and Y already exist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. And what about that "free exchange of ideas" about which the administration prates when it suits its purposes? Will Professor X's graduate students be enjoined from speaking to those of Y, and if they do will they be guilty of industrial espionage? And finally, what about the rest of us who are so foolish as to study unprofitable things like poetry, Sanskrit philology, evolutionary biology and the history of the Chansons? Will Mr. Rosovsky have time to hear our pleas for space, colleagues, funds and students between meetings with the University's business partners?

The response of the University administration to the objections that have already been raised is two-fold. First, we are assured that there will be safeguards to prevent abuses of the system. The prospect of the University treating with an even hand and without the slightest prejudice a professor in whom it has already invested $200,000 in a joint financial venture is ludicrous. It would be amusing to witness the scene when such a professor is informed that, although his or her research is undoubtedly of great commercial value, it is no larger of much intellectual interest, so his or her laboratory will have to shrink to make room for more exciting things. Mr. Bok and Mr. Rosovsky may have been raised to high academic office, but they have not yet achieved sainthood.

Second, we are told that the University is in dire financial straits and its existence is threatened unless it can engage in such profitable enterprises. Unfortunately, very few of us are privy to the secrets of the University's finances and exactly how it spends its money. As a former budget-making officer of a major university, I know that published budgets are policy documents, not objective balance sheets. "Creative cost accounting" in an institution like a university makes it possible to reallocate charges among its units to help make the case for almost anything. Claims that the University is desperately in the red should be treated with extreme skepticism in the absence of detailed public knowledge of what is really happening.


More important, suppose the University were really in dire financial distress. The suggestion that we save it financially by destroying its institutional nature is rather like the way Indochinese villages were "saved from Communism" by being bombed into oblivion. Come to think of it, that, too, was a policy purused by former Harvard administrators and professors, so perhaps we should not be surprised.

It is imperative that faculty and students who have the slightest interest in preventing the University from sinking to the lowest level of sordid commercial struggle speak out now. The protest should be directed to the President and it should be vigorous and speedy. Richard C. Lewontin   Agassiz Professor of Zoology