At past Commencements, the Vietnam War and Harvard's South Africa-related investments--symbolized by white arm bands--have been the main objects of student demonstration. Not so this year, when the main topic of protest is not what the nation or the institution is doing but rather what the Commencement participants are wearing.
Nearly three months ago student representatives and officials from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) threatened to set up informational picket lines at today's Commencement exercises if members of the University refused to boycott the dispute-plagued firm of Cotrell and Leonard, the non-unionized manufacturers of Harvard's traditional caps and gowns.
Union officials and student representatives began mobilizing support for a boycott in February but met with refusal on the part of the Harvard Coop--the supplier of the traditional garb--to cancel Cotrell and Leonard cap and gown orders.
Maintaining that no substitute could equal the quality of the traditional product, Coop General Manager James A. Argeros said the Coop would not embroil itself in the labor squabble.
But as students continued to demand an alternate, the Coop relented and decided to offer a McMillan Ward outfit in addition to Cottrell and Leonard's. Ironically, the alternate manufacturer is, like Cottrell and Leonard, non-unionized.
Although the Coop made it somewhat difficult for students to request the alternate by setting a deadline--which it later extended after protests by students and ILGWU members--about 80 per cent of those graduating today will sport the alternate caps and gowns.