Editor's note: More than 50,000 undergraduates passed through Harvard Yard in the 37 years that William Clinton Burriss Young '55 was affiliated with the Freshman Dean's Office. As proctor, senior adviser, assistant and finally associate dean, he influenced thousands of them indirectly--through wittily admonitory paragraphs in the Yard Bulletin, for example. But he also made personal contact with thousands, and when he announced he would retire at the end of the academic year, the invitation list for the farewell celebration in his honor ran to 2,400 names. At least 450 guests from around the world crowded into Annenberg Hall on May 29 for the party and heard former dean of Harvard College L. Fred Jewett praise Young for carrying out "the really important part of the University--the human part." This magazine asked Edward T. Wilcox, for many years assistant dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for educational affairs, and an old friend of Dean Young, for his thoughts on the occasion.ne would have to appeal to a theory of infinite numbers to count the contributions of Burriss Young to the Harvard community. Through the central decades of this half-century, Burriss has been mother hen to the Yardlings, clucking over successive broods of Harvard students.
|As a "baby dean" in the Yard, circa 1969. Young still wears the pre-Civil War belt buckle, but has given up smoking. RICHARD LOZEAU|
Recently, a gaggle of old Yardlings, a pride of ex-proctors, and a passel of University administrators gathered to honor the revered dean. Among those who stepped forward to pay tribute, few delivered broad encomia; most offered specific recollections, each of which captured a facet of this remarkable man. I propose to follow suit with a few anecdotes concerning his role in the University and his compassion for the young during the spring of 1969 and the months before and after, a period we now ruefully look back on as "the troubled times."
The crisis came, of course, in early April 1969, when the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and like-minded comrades took over University Hall and invited its occupants--including Dean Young--to evacuate the premises. The students occupied the building, and the next morning at dawn the police busted everyone they could lay a stick on. That did it. The University was in turmoil.
In the weeks that followed we all had plenty to do. We talked with outraged moderate students. We tried to memorize the six, then eight, then 12 nonnegotiable demands. I was one of those sent on the road to help pacify the alumni, who were in a murderous anti-Harvard mood. We were trying to explain what had happened that spring at peaceful, it-can't-happen-here Harvard. Burriss had the more difficult job. He was asked to deal with rational, though angry, undergraduates. He was about the last administrator among us who still had any credibility with them.
In those days everyone had heard about the takeover of University Hall. The story had made the cover of Life magazine. Constant press accounts made it look as if Harvard were seeing its last days.
Eventually things calmed down and I got ready for a weekend at my getaway place in Maine. There would be a lot of mowing and clearing to do, so I got in touch with Burriss, and he rounded up a husky "rising sophomore," eager for work. The three of us headed north and pulled into my routine stop at the village store, run by a down-Mainer named Harlan. As we walked in, Harlan put down the broom. He stared at me and my two companions.
"Dammit, Ted. How are ya?"
"I'm fine, Harlan. Everything has calmed down. I brought a dean and an undergraduate along to help open up."
"Gawd almighty! Is that all ya got left?"
Well, in fact, Dean Young was about all we had left. He remained the stalwart and steady one, always calm, always devoted to the undergraduates even when they seemed to me to be going stark, raving mad. He was there, involved in all the action during the troubles. These were the middle years of the three decades that Burriss served the University, and he was, throughout the upheavals, a quietly commanding figure and a sympathetic friend to all students.
Twenty-five years after the bust I thought it would be good fun to mark the anniversary with military decorations for those who had seen action in the bad old days. As in World War II, there would be medals for the many campaigns and battles, colored ribbons with oak-leaf clusters and the like for the major confrontations of the troubled times.
I drew up a list of these, and what a list it was. Here are a few episodes from among many:
The Miraculous Escape of Robert McNamara
The Battle of the Goldberg Debate
The King Collins Caper
The Paine Hall Campaign
The Battle of Muddy Pond
The Herrnstein Disruption
The Trashing of Harvard Square
The Commencement Intermission
Upon reviewing my unabridged catalog, I realized that most of us could be cited for bravery or cowardice at one or two of the melees, but Burriss would get a ribbon for each of them. I mean every battle, every siege, every roundup of bursar's cards that put students "on pro and proud of it." Had he worn his ribbons, Burriss would have looked like a South American general while the rest of us would have been sporting a good-conduct medal.
Burriss was there for the first confrontation, the demonstration against Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The students had the secretary's car surrounded and immobilized. With help from the police he got back into Quincy House, where he miraculously vanished. I have always suspected that Burriss was involved in the disappearance. This was probably the first time, but by no means the last, that a dignitary was hustled out through the steam tunnels. Burriss became an expert on the tunnels. He helped out when the police sneaked Great Men from one House to another, from the Yard to Soldiers Field.
Burriss was also a key figure in the last episode on my list. This happened after the so-called "goon squad" was organized under the leadership of Archibald Cox. Its members were dedicated to fending off disruptions. At Commencement, Burriss was given the position of chief scout. He was stationed on the little plot of ground to the right of the platform which we called "the grassy knoll." From this position he scanned the scene and spotted potential miscreants. Well, he spotted the intruder all right, and he warned the faculty members who had been positioned to lock arms and guard the podium; then he watched as the faculty line of defense collapsed in abject surrender when a determined young woman, all by herself, stormed the stage, grabbed the mike, and brought Commencement to a temporary halt. So much for our lines of defense.
There was more to concern one in the bad old days than skirmishes and encounters. These were, of course, the days of the Vietnam War. It was not a time to be sending wayward undergraduates out to "rusticate," as we delicately referred to firing someone from the College. Burriss was always a defender of all his freshmen, even the wicked ones. His performances at the Administrative Board were gems of forensic strategy. It struck some of us that it had to be statistically improbable that every plagiarist from Massachusetts Hall and every inebriated lacrosse player in the freshman class had a fatally ill grandmother or an incipient family tragedy that could only be averted if the board let the young fellow go free.
The interaction between the Ad Board and the undergraduates became deadly serious as the war stretched on. Draft boards across the nation were eager to cancel the draft exemptions of young men no longer in college. Burriss was a lot closer personally to the students than those of us who administered from an office. He agonized over every case. Dismiss the plagiarist and he was off to war. Soon thereafter he might well be dead. Does that seem like a fair rebuke for copying a couple of paragraphs from a roommate's paper?
Burriss was so well known by the undergraduate body that he became the chief bursar's-card holder after a sit-in at Mallinckrodt Hall. The students developed a brilliant tactic. We started among them to demand identifying bursar's cards from those who had entrapped a wretched recruiter from Dow Chemical. Word got out and in an act of solidarity all the students, everywhere on University property, handed over their bursar's cards to the nearest official. Everyone knew Dean Young; nearly everyone gave Burriss his bursar's card either the same day or in the days after, in the Yard or the Union or on the steps of Widener. This presented quite a problem for the Administrative Board. We had a huge pile of bursar's cards and had no idea who had been inside Mallinckrodt Hall and who was dozing in his room. In a mealy-mouthed move the Board charged them all with "Misuse of a bursar' s card." Tell me, were we evenly matched against these bright young rebels?
Burriss had an amazing rapport with both the Harvard and the Cambridge police. From time to time during the year and at any hour of the day or night one could find Dean Young down in Central Square, bailing out some freshman and escorting him gently back to his dorm.
Where did he get the money to post bond for these lowly freshmen? Well, way back, the class of '38 started a modest fund for the Freshman Dean's Office to use as it saw fit. Burriss became the custodian of the fund, and he used it to benefit freshmen in unusual ways. He bailed out the delinquents, but he also helped freshmen who were beset by illness or death at home. Word of a family tragedy would come into the FDO. Burriss would make some arrangements; then he would track down the young man wherever he was and provide him with a plane ticket. He would put the kid into a taxi, take him to the airport, and get him on a plane home. One didn't have to meet need criteria to get this treatment. Burriss just did it.
Harvard police officers would do virtually anything to accommodate Dean Young, who spent many hours trying to cajole them into behaving like avuncular baby- sitters. He was instrumental in getting emergency telephones into Harvard Yard. It was his personal domain, where he wandered at night walking his little dog, Tizzy, herself an abandoned waif the police had rescued and turned over to Burriss.
He cherished the Yard. He encouraged freshmen to plant bulbs in the bleak autumn and stay off the grass when spring and Commencement arrived. Indeed, he swore that he wanted to establish a cadre of mounted police, riding on gentle mares back and forth in the Yard like British bobbies. He never did get his mounted police, but he did help to encourage a compassionate, caring police force.
In the early days, before the Harvard-Radcliffe non-merger merger, Burriss took on numerous roles in an annual ritual, the proctors' notorious X-rated Christmas plays. When women moved into the Yard he provided less raunchy entertainment by climbing aboard a 12-foot, jerry-built, downright dangerous Santa sled carried on the shoulders of eight huge freshman reindeer. Circling the dining hall, holding on for dear life atop the precarious sled, Burriss threw hard candy out among his loving freshmen. They responded by catching the candies in mid-air and flinging them at top speed back at Santa's head. The following year, he threw marshmallows.
The reindeer warmed up and practiced their prancing next door to the Union in the basement of the Faculty Club. This was where one could find Burriss almost every evening sipping on a glass of wine and holding forth to friends who dropped by, certain that Burriss would be there full of good cheer. Proctors came to confer with him on how best to handle homesick freshmen. And old grads back for business in Cambridge would come by to discuss the lore of Massachusetts Hall with Himself.
If you were one of the select group who lived in Mass Hall between 1961 and 1996, the years when Burriss was resident there, your sense of loyalty was defined. Partial loyalty was accorded Harvard itself; a little was reserved for your upperclass House. But the deepest devotion was reserved for Massachusetts Hall. Old grads cherished the fact that they had spent their freshman year in Mass Hall and their upperclass years coming back to visit Mass Hall, returning to consult the oracle at Delphi.
No resident will ever forget the friendly clutter of Burriss's suite. Old pictures, frame to frame, were hung across the walls and tucked above the doors and windows. Confederate swords dangled here and there. On every table, every bookshelf, every open space there were artifacts from all corners of the globe: shards from Sardis stacked around a ceremonial mask from Africa; a Navajo doll nestled among Yankee bottles and pots; museum pieces next to the toy truck from his childhood.
This is where Archibald Cox dropped in during the troubles to discuss his latest strategy. And this is where successive generations came on cold stormy nights to hear about the ghosts that haunted Massachusetts Hall. Burriss knew they were there and he evoked them with his soft voice.
O Harvard presidents yet unborn! Your people finally usurped Mass Hall A-31. Prepare for the night when, from the dark recesses of the third floor, the ghost of Dean Young wanders in, bearing one more trinket from the museum shop to add to his precious hoard. And yes, he'll be led by a little doggie ghost named Tizzy.