Harvard Loses Pete Barrer

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Harvard Loses Pete Barrer

By M.B.

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 4, No. 3, May 1972, p. 16

Francis Bator Chairman
Harvard Public Policy Program
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Dear Francis Bator:

I am writing to announce my withdrawal from the Public Policy Program. This letter is being made public because the other students, professors and secretaries in the program also deserve to know why I am leaving. There are many reasons and events that have led me to this decision, but they sum to the simple facts that the Program is an illegitimate institution, that the masses of the American people and other peoples around the world would be better off if the program didn’t exist, and that my further association with it will do me no good.

Despite numerous comments about the universality of use of the program’s skills, it is clear to me that we have predominantly been studying policy analysis for the ruling class, the minority elite which governs in America. Who else but the ruling class, with its control over the country’s resources, can afford to keep policy analysts, to shower them with computer time and unlimited xerox?

The governing elite is responsible to itself for insuring the long term maintenance of the country’s institutions. As those institutions have become increasingly complex and interdependent, the ruling elite has been experiencing a rough time managing without tripping itself up. The needs of the men (there are no women) on the Visiting Committee, like C. Douglas Dillon, Benjamin Bradlee, and john Chaffee, constitute the demand for graduates of the Public Policy Program. The problem of public policy is how to create the conditions within which the ruling elite can maintain control over their economic apparatus and their administrative bureaucracies.

The social forces created by monopoly capitalism in the United States: exploitation, imperialism and most important, alienation, are creating the conditions for radical change, which can bring community power. A more efficient bureaucracy, carrying out the better informed decisions by the elite class of “decision-makers” cannot contain those social forces without a heavy dose of repression. Serving the men in the saddle of this runaway horse which is tearing itself to pieces is an illegitimate way to spend ones life. I have no intention of offering such service.

However, disagreement with the overall purposes of the program is not sufficient to prompt my withdrawal; I have been suspicious of the purposes of the program since enrolling. The content of the first year classes predominantly emphasizes analysis for the “decision-makers.” The projects have “client orientation” (as opposed to orientation for serving the people); the second year “briefings” emphasis on role-playing a staffer to an elite “decision-maker” caters to, of course, his interest, not the interests of the people being “served.”

Many times in the past year and a half I have kept quiet, endured an absurd indignity, or simply not complied with a program requirement, in order to remain within it. I very much dislike leaving a project before it is finished. I feel now, however, that there is no compelling reason to spend this Spring taking more courses at Harvard, to get another degree.

It is a great relief to toss off those obligations; a person can go through the motions and satisfy requirements for only so long.

You shouldn’t get the wrong picture: my past time has not been entirely wasted. I have gained some understanding from the courses I’ve taken and the activities I have taken part in. I have made a number of friends among the students, secretaries, and faculty. But there is a time for every purpose under heaven; the time has come for me to merge formality with reality, and formally withdraw from the Public Policy Program.  

Peter J. Barrer

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