Of Mammoths and Missives


WE FEEL VERY SORRY for the wooly mammoth. After all, it doesn't deserve to be extinct.

In fact, two freshmen, Glen McDonald and Henry Riggs, were so upset that they went to the top. No, they didn't ask evolution mogul Steven Jay Gould to resurrect the great beast. They asked President Derek C. Bok to divest of Harvard's stock in companies that contributed to the decline and fall of the prehistoric animal.

Bok responded promptly. McDonald and Riggs wrote to him on Friday, October 18, and four days later, the president wrote back: "Henceforth Harvard will have nothing to do with any corporation that teases, intimidates, harasses or otherwise contributes to the demise of wooly mammoths."

Now, Jonathan M. Harris '69 holds nothing against Mammuthus primigenius. Indeed, he probably is very sympathetic to its plight of nonexistence.

But he does have one problem. You see, he and more than 300 other alumni wrote to Bok almost three weeks ago about divesting of stock in companies with ties to South Africa, Harris's birthland. With the slowness we usually associate with large lumbering beasts, no one in Massachusetts Hall has responded to him yet.


So Harris called the president's office on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week. Each day the people in Bok's office told him that they could not find the letter, that it had been lost in the morass of paper in Mass Hall.

Finally, on Thursday, Harris went to Bok's office with a new copy of the letter--only to be told that the president's office had just received the letter through the mail the day before.

THAT STARTED HARRIS wondering, and--being no dummy--he called the U.S. Post Office to ask how long it would take a first class letter mailed in Boston to reach Mass Hall. Even figuring that the postman would have to wade through Harvard's ivy, the post office told him it would take three days, max.

Now, Harris still holds nothing against the wooly mammoth or its new-found buddies, McDonald, Riggs and Bok. Indeed, he remains indefatigably cheerful, pleasant and hopeful for a response soon. He has no illusions that the letter sent by his Boston-based group, Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni for Divestiture, will prompt Bok to divest.

But he does believe that the issues in South Africa are of tremendous concern. And he believes they deserve serious consideration and debate. Perhaps Bok is sick of debating divestment; perhaps he is tired of the issue. He has made up his mind, and Harris has made up his. Neither is going to change the other.

So we don't deny Bok or McDonald and Riggs their fun. Indeed, it was a pleasant, funny relief from the tension and high emotion of encampments and protests.

But why all the runaround about receiving the letter? Were the people in Bok's office rightly embarrassed over the appearance of responding to a silly letter but not to a serious letter?

There is no reason to be embarrassed. After all, the wooly mammoth play was all in fun, and Harris's letter deserves slow, thoughtful consideration.

The truly embarrassing thing is that after so much time dealing with protests encampments, letters, fiery speeches, loaded accusations, the president's office still handles the situation as if it has the small brain of a tyrannosaurus.

Even if Bok is tired of the issue, he has no excuse for giving Harris such shoddy treatment while people are dying in South Africa every day and the mammoth crusade is an example of dumb college humor.

PERHAPS the mammoth incident just indicates the malaise many people feel about the divestiture issue. As one friend suggested, The Crimson might as well run a daily "Apartheid Outrage Update" box rather than print full stories on the latest divestment rally.

It's a sad attitude, a numbing, that Harvard administrators have probably hoped for. And divestiture activists must do something to engage students in a new special way and avoid falling into McDonald--Riggsism.

But even the freshmen admit they have a long way to go in their movement. "We can't say we've won the war just because one university has agreed to divest. The wooly mammoth is not yet saved--it's still extinct," says McDonald.

Divestment activists have a long way to go, too.