Some critical boos resound amid Harvard's birthday applause
``And that's the way it was!'' Walter Cronkite's famous television tag line, uttered by him at the end of Harvard University's 350th anniversary party, seemed a fitting closing for the four-day celebration.Skip to next paragraph
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The observance had featured a speech by Britain's Prince Charles, a free party for 50,000 people on the shores of the Charles River, a variety of entertainment programs, and a brilliant fireworks display.
It had also offered more than 100 symposia at which noted experts discussed a wide variety of subjects, from poverty to world affairs.
But beneath the splendor lay a mood of dissent and a series of demands by outsiders as well as insiders. These included alumni, Radcliffe College discussion groups, and various minority groups demanding that Harvard recognize that a world exists beyond the ivory-tower confines of the Harvard Yard.
Even some attending alumni joined with townspeople of Cambridge and Boston and a variety of activists to demand openly that Harvard divest itself of more than $400 million it holds in firms with ties to South Africa, that Harvard diversify its student body and faculty to include more minorities, and that women be recognized as full-fledged members of the Harvard family in the classroom and in administrative positions.
This unrest proved most disruptive Sept. 4 when demonstrators carrying ``divest now'' signs caused a formal 600-guest dinner party to be canceled. The protest even included a helicopter that trailed an anti-apartheid banner.
Birthday officials squelched further disruptions by beefing up campus security. Thereafter demonstrators who had no tickets could not enter the Harvard Yard where most of the activities took place. Marchers continued their protests on nearby streets, however.
A day earlier, before the protests, President Derek C. Bok had proudly announced establishment of a $700,000 endowment that would bring a minimum of six inner-city educators from Boston and Cambridge to Harvard annually for a year's study. ``This program will bring to Harvard innovative, creative people who are working in the fields of today's changing public schools on the turbulent urban scene,'' he said. ``And academia can give them the benefits of the latest studies and developments in their field.''
School superintendents of both systems, Laval S. Wilson of Boston and Robert Peterkin of Cambridge, both black, expressed their hopes for a continued role for Harvard and other educational institutions in the improvement of public schools.
Radcliffe College, which began as a sister school for women 108 years ago and wound up becoming a part of Harvard in 1979, joined the celebration. But there was an undercurrent of dissent there, too, which was quietly critical of Harvard's male-dominated hierarchy.
Blacks were invited to the party officially by way of a last-minute seminar conducted by the Harvard Foundation to promote racial, ethnic, and cultural activities on campus. Speakers interpreted the black presence at Harvard as a turbulent one, hardly better today than it was 60 years ago. They spoke of a lack of hospitality given other minorities at Harvard, specifically Hispanics and Asians.
``Until the Harvard Foundation receives the respect and financial support of the Harvard hierarchy, minorities will face problems,'' said Muriel Snowden, one of three blacks presented Harvard 350 awards and a former overseer of the Harvard Corporation. ``I'm disappointed to see the pitifully small number of black alumni at this celebration. Without the black presence I fear that role models for future students will be absent.''
President Bok acknowledged the need for more diversity at Harvard, not only in its student bodies but also among its faculty members and throughout the university's varied activities.
Bok also expressed concern about government regulation of many private institutions of learning such as Harvard. In addition, he criticized the efforts of some donors to undermine the integrity of Harvard's research enterprises and professors with their large gifts.
Possibly the most biting commentary on Harvard 350 appeared in special editions of the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper. It said the celebration emphasized Harvard's glory but left out unflattering moments in the school's history.
Harvard seeks to hide nothing, the university replied in answer to protesters and the Crimson. In a statement it said that ``the university finds the use of force to impose views on others a totally unacceptable form of protest. . . . There have been many opportunities . . . to express dissent peacefully.''