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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
Campus politics usually tend to settle down a bit after the Commencement Day party tents are cleared away and the Faculty heads for Vermont or the Cape. In place of juicy student government scandal and University Hall intrigue, die-hard Harvard watchers are left with raging confrontations over summer school leg-shaving services and updates on the active campus social scene (see Campus Hijinx, below).
But in addition to the predictable warm-weather frivolity, several major events captured headlines here and in the national press this summer. Black Law School students initiated a controversial boycott of a civil rights course, demanding more minority professors and criticizing the prominent white lawyer scheduled to teach the class. A Harvard economist left for the White House and the weighty task of righting the Reagan economy. And that ever-troublesome power plant at the medical area was caught spewing some nasty pollutants and was closed down for a state investigation. Catch up on what you missed with the following:
Law School Troubles
Editorial columnists and academics around the country vociferously condemned the highly publicized boycott of a Law School civil rights course organized by Black students. The action, revealed in July and scheduled for this winter, provoked outrage because it seemed that the students had unleashed their frustration over a lack of minority faculty members on an undeserving victim: Jack Greenberg, an eminent civil rights lawyer who is also white.
The students argued from the outset that their protest stemmed from long-standing anger over the paucity of non-white faces among law professors. Only two of the school's 60 faculty members are Black. In addition, the students criticized what they considered an inadequate replacement for a previous civil rights course taught by a Black professor, who left Harvard two years ago. Rather than immediately hiring another full-time Black professor, Harvard asked prominent Black attorney Julius L. Chambers to lead a special three-week course during the January winter term. Chambers invited Greenberg to assist him.
"The fact that one of these visitors, Jack Greenberg, is white is simply not the animus behind our actions," the Black students said in a recent letter to the Crimson. The boycotts lashed out at those who they said had "erroneously characterized" the dispute. "We are protesting the complete lack of good faith by the Law School administration in recruiting and retaining minority tenured professors," they added.
But in earlier letters in July, the students had specifically attacked the choice of a white instructor for the mini-course, and they objected to what they called Greenberg's "apparent hostility toward historically predominantly Black educational institutions, his adamant refusal to relinquish directorship of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to a Black attorney, and his opposition to Black student associations on predominantly white campuses." Colleagues and law professors jumped to Greenberg's defense, and he denied the charges levelled by the law students. The student's belated attempt to deemphasize their initial criticisms of Greenberg did little to repair the damage done to their other, broader arguments about hiring practices. The controversy remains unresolved as the fall term begins.
In an unrelated incident at the Law School, the U.S. Army threatened Harvard with a loss of Pentagon research contracts because the Law School does not permit Army recruiting. Harvard joined five other universities in the military's dog house. All six schools have strict non-discrimination policies for encamps recruiting, which the Army says cannot follow because it excludes homosexuals and many disabled people from recruitment drives.
Harvard has thus far refused to back down in the case, as have the other schools. The Army's threat did not come with a specific deadline, and University officials predicted that the government would ignore the zealous Pentagon lawyer who first launched the surprise attack.
The Medical Area Total Energy Plant (MATEP) has been nothing but trouble since construction began in 1976 on what was to be a low-cost power facility. The price tag has jumped from $50 million to about $260 million since then, and the University's most glaring financial bungle of all time was forced to cease testing this summer because it violated state environmental codes.
Investigators discovered that Harvard had repeatedly operated the plant in violation of several state regulations, and the case was eventually brought before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Court ruled that the State Department of Environmental Quality Engineering must reopen hearings on the University's application to operate the plant, which is located off Brookline Ave. in Boston. The hearings could last well into the winter, lawyers predict, perhaps delaying MATEP's official opening for another full year.
Mending the Houses
While MATEP coughed and wheezed in Boston. Harvard raised another cloud of dust back home in Cambridge. The University undertook a massive renovation campaign that so far includes facelifts for two of the River Houses, refurbishing Sever Hall, rebuilding the football stadium, and knocking down Burr Hall to make way for a new wing of the Fogg Art Museum.
Operations were only slightly hindered by minor labor strikes, but it remains unclear whether major aspects of the most ambitious renovation project in Harvard's history will be finished on schedule. At Lowell House and Winthrop House for example, workmen were supposed to be packing their tools by last week, but huge swatches of scaffolding and signs warning. "Danger: Hard Hard Hats Required," remained up through the weekend. The $40 million repair jobs include extensive interior repairs as well as exterior structural work.
The Athletic Department, meanwhile, vows that for a mere $7 million the stadium at Soldiers' Field will be ready for the September 18 home opener against Columbia. From the looks of the place, however, it may be a standing-room only crowd no matter how many people show up. Concrete decay in the 79-year-old facility created a publicly acknowledged danger of collapse last season, so the school decided to put in new structural supports in addition to replacing all of the seats. Like other buildings, the stadium had not received the attention it needed earlier because of a recently abandoned policy of "deferred maintenance," under which the University had forgone all but the most dire repair jobs. Safety and ever-increasing construction costs persuaded officials to end the postponements and get on with the inevitable.
One indication of Harvard's current preoccupation with renovations came when Dean of the College John B. Fox Jr. '59 dropped by the Crimson building this summer for a visit. Emerging onto the sun-deck at 14 Plympton St., the 6-ft. 7-inch administrator immediately hopped up on a narrow ledge to examine the Crimson's rather ancient roof. "It's in a lot better shape than most of the Houses," the dean said, shaking his head.
Harvard in Washington
Economist Martin S. Feldstein '61 left the noisy streets of Cambridge this summer for the hushed conference rooms of the White House, where he will remain indefinitely as one of President Reagan's ranking economic advisors. The prominent conservative theorist faces perfunctory Senate confirmation hearings this month before he takes over as head of the President's Council of Economic Advisors Feldstein, who joins a large contingent of Harvard-affiliated advisors in the Administration, plans to return to his post in the Economics Department within two years--the maximum allowed for those who wish to retain tenure.
Like his predecessor Murray Weidenbaum, who resigned to return to teaching. Feldstein is known for his agreement with the Administration's efforts to trim deficits by cutting non-defence spending. But government analysts are unsure how Feldstein will handle two issues which apparently discouraged Weidenbaum during his tenure the Administration's enthusiastic predictions of economic recovery in the face of high unemployment and interest rates and the President's determination to extend his overall tax-cut program through a planned third year.
The debate over American nuclear arms policy cooled off somewhat while the White House scrambled to keep up with personnel problems in the State Department and the war in the Mideast. But at Harvard, there was action on two fronts in the drive to educate the public on questions of warheads and deterrence.
President Bok commissioned five prominent professors to write a definitive layman's guide to nuclear-related issues. Bok had announced his intention to use Harvard's resources in this effort during his June 10 Commencement address. Largely at Bok's behest, the Kennedy School of Government has already begun a program to brief journalists on the nuances of nuke-talk.
"We will not emphasize any one argument or take a partisan point of view," Samuel P. Huntington, Dillon Professor of International Affairs and one of the authors, said in July. "Our aim is to provide an intelligent framework for this very important debate."
While the professors mobilized for an early 1983 publication date, student anti-nuclear activists maintained research and lobbying efforts they had begun last school year. One student program organized recently will provide information to voters in 27 selected Congressional districts on how citizens can voice their views on issues such as the proposed freeze on nuclear weapons production.
The Black Guide Episode
Students and a professor at Brown decided last year to compile a guide to colleges designed specifically for Black students. Naturally they approached the heavyweights of the Ivy League for information on undergraduate life. Harvard awkwardly declined to participate, the only Ivy to do so.
Dean Fox decided in July to reverse course and submit answers to a questionnaire sent out by the Brown group, but only after an initial refusal by Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III became public. Fox explained that Harvard originally assumed that the Ivy League would uphold a tradition of cooperating with only two national college guides, one published by the College Board and one by a private firm. He also criticized the research techniques of the Brown group and charged that questionnaires for administrators and students were based on "segregationist and separatist assumptions...that special, separate services and organizations of Black students are good and that an institution that does not provide its own minority students of potential applicants a full list of racially segregated activities is not quite on track."
Brown staff members defended their polling methods, saying that they could glean productive information from as few as five student respondents. The group sharply criticized Harvard for having first backed away from the project but said that the information Fox submitted would be used The book is expected out this fall.
The unpleasant saga of two formerly Harvard-affiliated doctors convicted in 1981 along with a third colleague of gang-raping a nurse may finally drop out of the headlines. The former Harvard doctors--Arif Hussain and Eugene Sherry--learned in July that their six-month sentences had been upheld, as had an identical punishment for fellow defendant Alan Lefkowitz.
The case has attracted an extraordinary amount of media coverage because of dramatic courtroom testimony given by witnesses and because of the unusually light sentences the guilty doctors received. Sherry added to the circus-like excitement surrounding the various trials when he disappeared temporarily this summer, only to reemerge arguing that he should not be jailed because of a health condition. Finally, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan recently became involved in the rape trial when he denied a personal appeal filed with his office by Hussain and Lefkowitz.
On an altogether silly note, several male high Schoolers at the summer session did their best to uphold the fine traditions of Camp Harvard by opening a women's leg shaving service in their Weld Hall suite. The Weld Penthouse Shaving Society was founded on the premise that some female students were "too lazy" to take care of the job themselves, and it was apparently well-received by amused Weld women. One shaver said that he and his associates had provided their non-profit service to at least 20 customers.
Not even cracking a smile, summer school administrators closed down the operation as soon as they heard about it. They later censored a humorous article about the whole affair intended for publication in the school-sponsored Harvard Summer Times.
Other campus hijinx included the always-hilarrious activities going on at 44 Bow St.--home of the Harvard Lampoon. Hard at work on their parody of Newsweek magazine, the Poonies took time out to socialize with the little folks by throwing a huge party and inviting the entire summer school. Advertising posters offered "sex with handsome yucksters," among other attractions. Mysteriously, the college comedians backed out at the last minute and kept the lobster and champagne for themselves. The Cambridge police had to be brought in to quell the disappointed crowd which had gathered outside of the Lampoon Castle.
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