BACK IN MAY, a bunch of students held a peaceful sit-in at the headquarters of Harvard's governing boards. Some of these apartheid protesters were Law School students, and because these students didn't mean any harm, the Law School Administrative Board didn't see any reason to make a big deal out of the incident. In no time at all, the disciplinary body had quietly delivered official warnings to the ten law students involved in the protest.
Against the background of confusion and protest over the controversial Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR), the Law School Ad Board's expedient procedures appeared not only effective, but an appropriate way of avoiding needless controversy.
And when College administrators' promises of a CRR decision before commencement became impossible to keep (The CRR still hasn't decided discipline for 18 students involved in last spring's protests), the Law School's handling of the whole incident seemed all the more smart, mature, and appropriate.
But then the Law School Ad Board decided that it hadn't done enough. Soon after the sit-in, 119 people had signed a petition of solidarity with the 10 who had received punishment, asking the Board to punish them as well, and the members, regrettably, decided to grant the requests.
So the Ad Board sent out letters to those who requested punishment, asking them to say what they did, and why they deserved punishment. This so infuriated the petition signers that they wrote back to the Ad Board telling it they would never respond to the request, claiming that such an action would be self-prosecution. Then these 75 students called on the Law School Faculty to "monitor the proceedings of the Ad Board."
Meanwhile, the Ad Board put a warning in a weekly administration publication threatening harsher punishment if another protest like the April 24 sit-in occurred.
What was once quick, efficient and effective has now become childish, silly and unproductive. And while it once deserved praise, the Law School Ad Board is now to be condemned for its ridiculous attempt to prosecute sympathizers.
The board's members already know that no other law students were inside the 17 Quincy St. headquarters of Harvard's governing boards: all the participants were either identified as being in the building or came forward during the first set of hearings back in June.
The Board's warning in the publication was also unnecessary, and merely shows that its members are bent on intimidating political protesters and stifling free speech.
Moreover, the Board should not be concerning itself with the prosecution of those who merely sympathized with the relatively calm protest at 17 Quincy St. Rather, it should start thinking about how it is going to deal with those who may have truly violated the civil liberties of others--at Lowell House last spring when protesters blockaded a South African diplomat inside the room he was speaking.
The 75 students in question are just as much to blame. By responding to the Ad Board's letter, they only gave it legitimacy. And by calling on the Faculty to monitor the Ad Board, they only look like crybabies. The time and energy they spent trying to solve their problem with the Ad Board only diverted energy from more productive concerns. They would have been much better lobbying Congress about South Africa--South African apartheid was once the issue here.
All the silly correspondence between the Law School Ad Board and these 75 students makes even the CRR look good.
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