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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Town-Gown Battle Continues

By Thomas J. Winslow

Sometime back in 1956, former Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci proposed to the City Council that Harvard secede from the city and declare itself a small monarchy, with President Nathan M. Pusey '28 as its king.

Back then, the suggestion brought a lot of hootin' and hollerin'. But maybe the 70-year-old Vellucci wasn't so crazy after all.

Today some local observers are saying that the University acts like a small city-state. With all its political, financial and physical clout, critics claim, the self-contained University could declare its independence from this puny city of 96,000.

"Cambridge is really two cities," says City Councilor David E. Sullivan. "We have the University and all its affiliates, and then we have those people in government and the city's industries."

Just take a quick look at the evidence:

* Harvard owns the most property and employs the most people in all of Cambridge.

* While the city's proposed budget for next year is almost $171 million, the cost of operating Harvard next year will be triple that figure.

* The University has its own police force whose officers--trained deputy sheriffs--have authority in both Cambridge and Boston. That's more than Cambridge cops can say.

* Cambridge even has to rely on college students for the city's only breakfast-table daily newspaper.

Practically speaking, Harvard could quite easily become another Vatican City within Cambridge Let's face it; the 355 year-old municipality would likely crumble if it divorced its common law spouse, Harvard.

Try to imagine Cambridge--gasp--without the University. Although Harvard is not legally bound to pay taxes, it voluntarily coughs up anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million to the city annually.

In addition, the insititution's presence reportedly pumps more than $1 million into the local economy. And don't forget all those high tech research firms and croissant eating yuppies who flock to share the same city with one of the world's greatest institutions.

But, more importantly, without a Harvard in Cambridge, there just wouldn't be those University-derived names given to such legends as the Crimson Shop, Quincy St., or even Harvard Cleaners. And, what would they call the Square?

Without Harvard to push around anymore, things would be a whole lot quieter in Cambridge, too. For one thing, there would be many fewer disputes between academic and blue collar neighbors.

Every Cantab fondly recalls, for example, when the City tried to pave Harvard Yard; or when some local politician wanted to turn the Lampoon Castle into a public latrine. Legend also holds that it took the Cambridge Fire Department 45 minutes to respond to a fire in the steeple of Memorial Hall, located about 50 yards from the firehouse.

As it is, the city now has a treaty with Harvard prohibiting the institution from expanding into Cambridge neighborhoods.

"Sure, there've been lots of town-gown battles," said one old timer, "but without Harvard, Cambridge would just be the gateway to Somerville."

Maybe the thought of splitting up these curious bedfellows isn't so hot. Besides, who would want to ruin 350 years of marital bliss?

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