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Professors sit on political sidelines

Faculty involvement in '84 campaign seems unusually modest

By Richard L. Callan

Harvard faculty members have traditionally lent their support to political candidates in a variety of ways. some have put their reputations behind a particular candidate through public endorsements, while others have used their expertise to help politicians by serving as advisors on specific issues. Still others have become active participants in a candidate's campaign organization. Ultimately a faculty member may find his support of a candidate leading him through the "revolving door" between government and academia.

This year, however, few Harvard professors have opted for a major commitment to any of the presidential candidates. The reaction of Assistant Professor of Economics James L. Medoff is typical "I've been a resource to any of the candidates who have had questions about labor issues," he says, adding that he has not endorse any of the presidential aspirants.

While many professors have given their advice to candidates, few seem to have taken major roles in any of the campaigns. "I'm not aware of anyone who's taken a leave of absence to work on a campaign." notes Joseph S. Nye, professor of Government and a former high-ranking official in the Carter Administration State Department. Nye adds that his own commitment to former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale's campaign is limited to regular trips to Washington to advise the campaign on foreign policy issues. As Nye explains his current role. "I'm an occasional participant [in the political process]. They ask for advice and I give advice."

One way professors this year have shown their support for candidates without taking an active role in their campaigns is through endorsements. Twenty-one Harvard professors signed a political advertisement endorsing Colorado Senator Gary Hart for president just before the Massachusetts primary in March. A number of the faculty members who signed the advertisement say they have done no active work on Hart's behalf--either before or after the ad appeared. Robert Brustein, a drama professor who signed the advertisement, admits for example, "I was never really actively engaged in the Hart campaign."

Hale Champion, executive dean of the Kennedy School of Government, thinks that this may be indicative of a trend towards less faculty involvement in the 1984 elections, a change he attributes to the issues raised in the campaign. "There isn't the same level of interest in new ideas: there are fewer areas of debate," he says.

Sociology Professor Nathan Glazer echoes this point. "This seems to be a very quiet political year for the Harvard faculty," he contends. As to why professors have become less involved, Glazer speculates. "The issues are not covering the major points of interest of the faculty. Jackson is clearly a race candidate, so there's a problem there. Mondale is close to the liberal tradition but lacking in glamor."

"Compared with previous years, I'd say they are pathetic to apathetic." --Elaine M. Kistiakowsky

Many faculty members feel that the current crop of presidential candidates is rather uninspiring. "Hart is still a bit of an unknown, but a good alternative," says Elaine M. Kistiakowsky, assistant to the dean for national security at the School of Public Health. "He seems not to have satisfied everyone, yet Mondale is not a terrible person," she adds. "Mondale fails to excite people. I worked for Mo Udall a few years ago and there was a lot more enthusiasm then."

Kistiakowsky worked actively for Hart when he was in Boston; she even lent furniture to the Hart for President headquarters. She plans to continue to be active. "I'm going as a delegate to the state convention in June, and I've toyed with the idea of becoming a Hart delegate [to the Democratic National Convention]. I will do everything I can to elect as many good Hart supporters to go to the national convention as I can," she promises.

She sees another problem with faculty commitment to a single candidate. "I frankly think that the faculty is perhaps more cautious than before," she says, explaining, "a lot of the faculty are trying to keep their lines open to more than one candidate. They want to back a winner. So they've chosen to act more as experts and advisors without taking a stand."

"Compared with previous years, I'd say they are pathetic to apathetic," Kistiakowsky concludes.

Perhaps the most active faculty members in the campaign have significantly centered their involvement around an issue rather than a political candidate. A group of physicians at the Medical School has been actively working against nuclear weapons. Because they feel Hart has a strong position on this issue, they have thrown him their support.

Dr. James E. Muller, assistant professor of Medicine, is a co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He and other doctors met with Hart "several times" when he was in Boston earlier this year. "His response was quite good, and I think he could stop the arms race if he were to be elected," Muller says.

"I think it is a very legitimate role of an academic faculty to use medical and scientific expertise when they see a problem to bring the debate into the public spotlight."   --James E. Muller, Assistant professor of medicine

"I would say the medical faculty has been extremely active on this particular issue," Muller contends. The Hart backer emphasizes that he is not tied to any particular candidate, but would support Mondale as well on this issue if he were the Democratic nominee, "or anyone except Reagan."

"This is the number one issue in the campaign--and it could lead to human extinction. Hart is electable--he can beat Reagan, whereas I don't think Mondale can." Muller says.

Muller stresses that his position is important. "I think it is a very legitimate role of an academic faculty to use medical and scientific expertise when they see a problem to bring the debate into the public spotlight," Muller says, adding, "And I'm concerned that President Reagan's policies are likely to lead us into a nuclear war. That's why I entered the political arena."

"The issue is more important than the candidate," agrees Lester Grinspoon, associate professor of psychiatry. "Three or four of us met with Hart when he was in Boston and chatted with him about the nuclear issue, along with Carl Sagan and others."

The physicians' involvement, says Grinspoon, has been limited due to Hart campaign office problems. "We had hoped to do some work with Hart," Grinspoon says, "but the campaign was very disorganized. We had also hoped to send a letter to 200 people in support of Hart, but no one there was able to take responsibility for giving us permission to send it," he claims.

Grinspoon switched his affiliation from earlier support for former Sen. George S. McGovern. "I thought that Hart was the most effective and could win," says Grinspoon, who began his writings on, the nuclear issue with a 1961 article in The New Republic. "I think that Mondale could beat Reagan," he adds, "but if Reagan is re-elected I think many more people will be deeply concerned about the possibility of nuclear war."

"I'm interested in a candidate who can offer us some sanity," Grinspoon says, "and that is my interest in Gary Hart. People who are more politically active are going to be galvanized by their anxiety connected with this issue."

But many caution against over-involvement. K. School Dean Graham T. Allison Jr. '62 said earlier this year. "It's important that [campaign advisors] are not perceived as representatives of the school." Allison reminds Harvard staff each year that there are strict guidelines in this area, including a rule that professors who take a leave of absence must return within two years or lose their tenure.

As for himself, Allison explains, "I bend over backwards to be non-partisan, even when it makes me feel personally constrained."

Faculty are careful to point out that the nature of their academic work necessarily limits their outside political involvement. "There's a problem about being too active with one's political commitments in a university," claims Nye.

Nye also cites the fact that a professor must offer his ideas to the larger academic community. He said that, in addition to advising Mondale, he has also talked to people in the Reagan Administration on substantive issues. "One has to maintain a certain openness with one's ideas," he says, adding. "The Reagan people are aware that I am doing work for Mondale. But I offer my ideas openly."

Medoff feels that a professor's responsibility to his students should also limit his political activities. "Given that the faculty is in the business of teaching students, one had to ask if students are gaining or losing by outside political involvement," he says. On the negative side. Medoff says that if in a 20-hour work week a faculty member spends 19 of those hours or doing research or outside work, then that's too much.

But Medoff adds that he thinks students often benefit from a bit of outside participation. "I think outside involvements have enhanced my ability to teach and be more informed." Medoff explains, adding that he often changes his lectures because of knowledge he gains from participating in campaigns. "It's a balance, though and it's hard to define the right amount. Some involvement can be beneficial; too much can be harmful." Medoff declares.

"My hallmark is that I'm an empiricist, and as such I need to leave my office from time to time to talk with labor leaders," Medoff says, adding. "Someone who's a theorist may gain less."

D. Joseph Menn assisted in the reporting of this article.

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