Rudenstine No Friend of Student Rights


To the Editors of The Crimson:

In the Boston Globe of March 25, your managing editor characterized Neil L. Rudenstine as the "unofficial choice of the student body."

If this is accurate, your students are misinformed. In truth, the selection of Rudenstine as Harvard's president portends trouble for student rights and initiatives.

As provost of Princeton University, Rudenstine was renowned for two things: his opposition to student democracy and his resistance to student-supported causes such as divestment.

Rudenstine was at his most disingenuous in his successful effort to quash a democratic student initiative to establish a Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) at Princeton.


In 1980, Princeton's student government announced plans to hold a referendum to determine whether students wanted to assess themselves six dollars per year to fund PIRG. Months before the referendum, the president of the student government informed Rudenstine of the upcoming vote. Rudenstine voiced no objections; indeed, he and university counsel met several more times with student government representatives in the months prior to the referendum. Meanwhile, hundreds of students organized in anticipation of the ballot.

Only days before the vote, however, Rudenstine abruptly changed course and informed students that the administration would not honor any referendum. The reason: Students would not be allowed to give their own money to a cause that engaged in politics, albeit non-partisan politics.

Rudenstine's reasoning struck students as bizarre, considering that student government had many times in the past voted funds to student groups engaged in politics and even lobbying. The student government was indignant at this unprecedented abrogation of its sovereign prerogatives. The Daily Princetonian condemned Rudenstine and urged undergraduates "to strongly object to this limitation of [student government] authority to use activities money as students see fit."

In the referendum--the largest in Princeton history--students resoundingly approved PIRG. Rudenstine refused to honor the results. No matter what one thinks of PIRG, it simply wasn't right for Rudenstine to allow students to organize for a referendum that the University would never permit to take effect. The entire affair left a bitter legacy with students, alumni and faculty.

But this behavior was consistent with Rudenstine's imperious treatment of Princeton students supporting divestment. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Rudenstine consistently opposed any divestment of Princeton stocks in corporations doing business in South Africa; he even refused to meet with students supporting the cause.

That the president of Harvard so openly and aggressively opposed divestment will make it difficult, or at least embarrassing, for Harvard to invite leading advocates of divestment to campus: Nelson Mandela of Bishop Desmond M. Tutu, for example. Most importantly, Rudenstine's behavior demonstrates insensitivity to issues of concern to minority groups--an inappropriate message for Harvard's president.

As provost Rudenstine also opposed a lawsuit brought by Sally Frank, an undergraduate, to have Princeton's all-male eating clubs opened to females. After a decade-long legal battle, Frank finally prevailed this year when the Supreme Court decided to let stand a lower court ruling directing the clubs to admit women. Harvard's new president was hardly in the forefront of promoting rights for women.

There are probably other aspects of Rudenstine's record that would be of interest to readers; The Crimson has an obligation to delve deeper into his past. Carl J. Mayer   Princeton Class of 1981