Learning How to Read, Write and Rewrite


At a Christmas party at Massachusetts Hall, home to Harvard's central adminstration, coworkers gave President Derek C. Bok a pike and matching garbage bag to boost efforts to pick up trash in the Yard. Whether Bok ever used these implements remains unknown even to this day; either way, it's clear that the University he governs is concerned not only with its physical look, but also its reputation.

"One of Mr. Bok's big interests is the way the place looks," says Vice President and General Counsel Daniel Steiner '54. "Look at the Law School," Steiner says, "When Bok was dean there, he made it look better than ever before."

As president, Bok has done more than just collect garbage in his efforts to improve the look of Harvard Yard, the place where it all began 350 years ago.

Outside of Massachusetts Hall, for instance, Bok's administration has spent at least $50,000 in landscaping and construction of a guard house with gingerbread trim. And across the campus, Harvard officials are planning to sink nearly $500 million into building renovations on campus by 1990.

Recently, and just in time for the 350th celebration, cranes dropped two full-grown trees into the ground outside Grays Hall at an estimated cost of $5000 each.


But it's not only Harvard's grounds that will look beautiful for the four-day birthday party. The University has pruned and trimmed a bit of its own history, critics charge, in order to produce a lusher view of the Crimson past.

"It's like history doesn't exist," Chester Hartman '57 says about the University's planning for the 350th. Hartman, of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, says the symposia fail to investigate some of the more unflatterring periods in Harvard history.

Hartman also says he would have liked for Harvard to hold symposia looking into current controversies on campus such as divestment and CIA sponsorship of academics.

"There's more to Harvard history than just glory," Hartman says. But because "very few people outside Harvard aren't overwhelmed" by the place, he says the media coverage has failed to unearth the skeletons in the University's closet. "It tends to identify with Harvard's glory," Hartman says.

Even Bok expresses disappointment in what has been reported about the anniversary. "A lot of the questions I am getting indicate a distorted and superficial view of what a university is," Bok says. "The stories seem to suggest a monolithic influence at Harvard. It's almost as if Harvard is responsible for the Vietnam War and the Great Society."

Savory Morsels

Officials involved in presenting Harvard's story to the media say they are very satisfied with the stories that have been written about the College and its birthday. Press spokesmen also deny that there has been any effort to hide the unsavory parts of Harvard's past.

"The themes we wanted to be treated are being treated," Vice President for Government and Community Affairs John Shattuck says about the news coverage. "The stereotype of Harvard as a wealthy, elite institution has been dispelled by the coverage," says Shattuck.

"On balance the print coverage has been very good," says Peter Costa, director of the Harvard News Office. "They have been assessing what Harvard is and what its contribution has been," he adds. "I'm pleased that they still consider us the preeminent institution."

"We're not trying to hide anything. There has been some focus on controversies in the stories but it has not been the dominant theme."