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East Campus - discussion on Apartheid Collquium

Students at East Campus focused on the issue of divestiture. The discussion was led by James T. Higginbotham, professor of philosophy and linguistics, and Daniel N. Osherson, professor of cognitive science and housemaster of East Campus.

Divestment seemed to be unanimously supported, although the students raised questions about how badly it would hurt the South African blacks economically. Some of the twelve or so students present claimed that the fear of hurting the innocent is merely a cover used by those who do not wish to divest. They said that this fear was absent during the Vietnam War and is also absent in our involvement in Nicaragua.

Three-fourths of black South Africans support some kind of divestiture, either partial or total, according to an underground survey cited by one student. This survey also stated that one third support an armed struggle. The group interpreted this as a sign that South African blacks are so desperate for equality, they are willing to take up arms, and thus economic sanctions pale in comparison.

One student questioned whether the dominant motivation regarding the United States' South African policy is economic self-interest or claims of US moral leadership. The group agreed that economic interests govern our actions despite American opposition to apartheid.

When our actions do not agree with our words, we are viewed with contempt as hypocrites, someone in the group said. One group member compared the US government's "exaltation" of slight improvements made by the South African government with the "derision" shown toward similar advancements in Poland. He said this comparison demonstrated America's tolerance and even support for the South African government.

Members of the group discussed the reasons for MIT sponsorship of the colloquium on apartheid. Two major reasons brought to the floor were:

O+ It is a preface to some action which MIT plans to take in the near future.

O+ It is a meaningless gesture devised to cover MIT's lack of action and to appease those on campus demonstrating against MIT's $150 million in investments in companies with South African interests.

Most participants in the dicussion believed that the colloquium was a gesture, although some said it may serve a useful purpose by educating people and bringing the issue to everyone's attention.

Osherson presented some of the reasons behind the reluctance of President Paul E. Gray '54 to be a forerunner in divestiture. One possible result of divestment is a discontinuance of support by IBM (one of the South Africa related companies in which MIT owns stock) in Project Athena, he said.

Osherson proposed a meeting of all interested university presidents to discuss divestment and band together to divest as a group. This would eliminate the dread of being alone in making such a stand. Higginbotham said that a meeting with similar intent had already taken place. Gray sent Associate Provost S. Jay Keyser to the meeting in his place, Higginbotham said.