February 23 the Dow Chemical Company recruiters were back on the Harvard campus. They went unmolested, unobstructed, unreviled, in fact unnoticed. Instead, student demonstrators shifted their focus to the University administration, which is responsible for the presence of recruiters. Everyone remembered the October Dow incident; few people doubted that the administration would expel students involved in a similar obstructive action. There was a lot of tension around Harvard the week before the latest Dow visit. President Pusey's annual report had been highly critical of Harvard radicals. His curious phrase, "Walter Mitty's of the Left," became infamous as various responsible apologists heaped scorn on their president in a vain attempt to bring him back to reality.
The Student-Faculty Advisory Council, a body formed after the October sit-in to try to channel radical energies into harmless talk, passed a resolution asking the faculty to postpone Dow's visit until a policy could be reached. The faculty rejected the suggestion. Many people felt the administration was looking forward to a showdown with the radical movement. Most everyone agreed that students were successfully intimidated by the threat of expulsion.
Three days before Dow's visit, Pusey met with the Council. The Council denied an SDS request for equal time at the meeting.
Nothing much happened. Pusey maintained the party line: Harvard as an institution is, and must remain, neutral on social and political issues. People tried to explain that Harvard's status as a corporation directly contradicted its claim of neutrality, that in fact Harvard University is as pro-war as Lyndon Johnson. He just couldn't see that.
Pusey remains cool. By denying the premise, he eliminates any chance of confrontation on the conclusion. Furthermore, the issue is diverted. People are railing about his blindness, his stubbornness, his arrogant evaluation of the radical movement. Meanwhile Pusey will continue his political attack, disguised as administrative decision-making. Hey people, wake up, Pusey's not blind, he's political, just like you and me. He's pro-imperialism and pro-counterinsurgency.
SDS knows that. The night before the Dow visit, they decided to focus the demonstration on the administration's complicity with the war effort. Non-obstructive sit-ins were called for Massachusetts Hall (Pusey's offices) and University Hall (the Deans' offices). SDS hoped that the peaceful character of the demonstration would attract a broad base of support from students, and that the Dow issue could, be used to educate students about Harvard's corporate role in the world.
So Friday came, sunny and very cold. A few hundred students came to a rally in the Yard, followed by a short march to Mass Hall. But Mass Hall was locked. Someone knocked on the door, and two pressed and polished flunkies appeared an assistant to the president and an assistant to the assistant to the president. They explained that the demonstrators were most unwelcome inside; they felt that two representatives was the maximum number that might enter and still preserve decorum. Their offer was declined. Everyone shifted to University Hall.
The Deans in University Hall were much more cordial than the president. They stipulated only that anyone entering the secretarial area must be a Harvard student. Dean Archie Epps stood at the door checking bursar's cards as demonstrators politely filed past. Cliffies with armbands, indicating they were monitors, went around keeping aisles open and shutting people up, since too much noise was likely to obstruct the normal functioning of the secretaries. The demonstrators settled in, eating, reading the Crimson, doing their math.
A false report that Pusey was about to emerge from Mass Hall brought everyone outside again. Soon after the group disbanded, promising an end to symbolic protest and a beginning of serious anti-war and anti-draft organizing.
I was sure that this demonstration, if that is what is was, would have to mark some kind of turning point in the movement at Harvard, but I had little idea how to interpret or evaluate what happened. Surely those people will not do what they did again, at least not with a straight face. Or will they? I don't know.Skip Ascheim