Political Review Should Be Independent


I WAS APPALLED to learn that the Institute of Politics had decided to claim editorial control of the Harvard Political Review and to force the magazine's editors to resign if they would not accept their diminished capacity. While the articles in The Crimson suggested a balanced view of the controversy that surrounded the staff's resignation, they also presented a misleading history of the Review and its relationship with the institute. The institute's associate director, Charles Truehart, said that the Review has "always been a creature of the SAC"--the institute's Student Advisory Committee. This remark is wrong--plainly, simply wrong. At best, it constitutes an uninformed assumption; at worst, cynical bullying.

The Harvard Political Review has always been an independent magazine with complete editorial autonomy from its beginnings in 1969 as a forum for undergraduate political writing; the charter still resides in Dean Epps' office. The magazine was established outside of the institute by students without any ties--financial or otherwise--to the institute. When the institute offered the Review a home a decade ago, it did so with the understanding that the magazine would remain an independent organization. In return for an office within the building, the Review published articles by institute fellows, interviews with guest speakers, and reports of livelier conferences. That was the extent of the mutually advantageous bargain between the institute and the Review.

With the history of the magazine running so clearly against the institute's claim of editorial sovereignty, its staff members have been hard-pressed to explain the basis of their new-found control. Some of them recently stated that, over the years, the institute has "bought" the magazine. This is an extraordinary concept. It is true that the Review has received an annual subsidy from the institute. But it is also true that the institute never thought of the subsidy as an expression of any chartered responsibility, only as an act of kindness. Jonathan Moore, the institute's director, encouraged each new Review president to find corporate sponsors outside the institute; he confided to each president how he hoped the magazine would soon be able to operate without any subsidy at all; finally, he told each president that an independent journal should not rely on any parent organization. To demonstrate this attitude, he occasionally withheld money, suggesting that the institute owed the Review nothing. Where there is no duty, how can any rights be claimed?

I understand very well the peculiar relationship the Review has had with the institute. During my tenure on both the SAC and the Review, I never heard anyone suggest that either the institute or the SAC had editorial control of the Review. The organizations were friendly neighbors, each with a keen sense of our respective boundaries. The president of the Review was a voting member of the SAC, and members of the SAC sat on the financial oversight committee of the Review to protect the institute's stake in our venture. We all understood that the SAC's financial advice was the price the magazine paid for its subsidy. Not once in the four years I spent at the institute did the SAC breach those limits.

I HAVE A specific reason to fear institute control of the magazine. The institute always hoped that the Review would be a different kind of journal. Institute staff members often told me that they wanted a magazine that was closer in spirit to their conferences--in which well-known policy-makers would hold forth in print. They never appreciated that the primary function of the Review, at least in our eyes, was to provide undergraduates with a place where they could learn how to write an essay, to edit, to solicit subscriptions: where students could experience working on a political magazine. The institute, I believe, wants to transform the Review from a forum for student writing into a press for bureaucrats and professors.


My fears are shared by the vast majority of students who have worked in the institute during the last decade. I have recently spoken with almost every former president of the Review, as well as with numerous members of the SAC. They all agree that the SAC and the institute had no power to issue an ultimatum concerning the structure of the magazine or its editorial content. Such action is a jarring break with the past. It lacks all legitimacy, except the legitimacy that accompanies brute strength.

My former colleagues and I value another type of legitimacy--the legitimacy that flows from tradition. For two decades, a succession of students have worked hard to write pieces, to edit them well, to bind them together attractively, and to get enough money to print their product. Twice a year, they have run a comp and recruited new members. Every December, under the guidance of a charter, they have elected new officers and thereby assured the survival of their legacy.

Consequently, this year's staff is the only legitimate successor to the first Harvard Political Review staff in 1969. My former colleagues and I will support--financially and morally--any magazine they put together, even if it is no longer allowed to bear the title Harvard Political Review. A staff chosen by other means--including students the institute picks--has no right to run this magazine. Put bluntly, they are interlopers who have inherited the Review through force and intimidation.

Alexander Kaplen '81 was president of the Harvard Political Review in 1980 and was a member of the Student Advisory Committee to the Institute of Politics from 1979-1981. He is currently a second-year law student at Yale University.