CRISIS AND RECOVERY
E very institution goes through crises produced by a mix of outside stimuli, internal discontent, and administrative failings. In the case of higher education, that happened in the late 1960s: to Berkeley in 1967 and Columbia in 1968, to Paris in the May Days of 1968, to Harvard in the spring of 1969. Critics of those upheavals resorted to the language of world-class disasters: “The Time of Troubles, ” “The Terror, ” “World War III.” Apologists favored comparably distended metaphors of revolution and rebirth, of a Wordsworthian sense of sheer bliss to be young and alive and involved in a time of institutional re-creation.
The university protests of the late sixties had large-scale demographic, cultural, and political sources: the coming of age of the baby boomers, the rise of the counterculture, the trauma of Vietnam. But the greatest institutional disruption in Harvard's history occurred as well in a more particular context: that of the increasingly meritocratic, affluent, self-satisfied university of the sixties. Of course other schools shared these qualities and experienced similar (or worse) student uprisings. But there appears to have been a special degree of shock on the part of Harvard faculty, administrators, and alumni that so much student disaffection existed in their university: that it could have happened here.
The Vietnam War was the flash point that set off the protests of the late sixties. As American involvement in Vietnam grew, so did on-campus opposition. Initially it proceeded within the prescribed Harvard tradition of civility and open debate. Divinity School dean Samuel Miller wanted “to be sure that all viewpoints are represented” at a faculty meeting on Vietnam in the spring of 1965, and National Security Adviser