Nathan Pusey, 94; Harvard President in Times of Change

From Associated Press

Nathan M. Pusey, a scholar of ancient history who led Harvard University during the turbulent campus protests of the 1960s, died Wednesday. He was 94.

Harvard spokeswoman Rebecca Rollins said Pusey had suffered a number of health problems in recent weeks. He died in New York City, where he lived.

Pusey was president of Harvard from 1953 to 1971, a period during which the university was transformed from a bastion of the elite to a diverse national institution that aggressively courted students from all backgrounds. But he left embittered over campus radicals who he believed threatened academic freedom, which he had defended during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.


Pusey called for an end to campus turmoil and violence during the late 1960s, complaining that on many campuses learning had almost ceased because of the violent, revolutionary activities of a “small group of overeager young [people] . . . who feel they have a special calling to redeem society.”

In 1969, Harvard’s campus essentially was shut down, and portions were occupied by demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War. When Cambridge police and state troopers violently broke up the demonstrations, even some moderate students blamed Pusey for the ensuing violence. He expressed no regrets in a 1989 Harvard Crimson retrospective.

“When I was against McCarthy and I was out in Wisconsin fighting against his election, and when I was calling in the police at Harvard, I was fighting for the same principles,” he said.

When in 1970 he announced his plans to resign, the Crimson wrote that, “while disagreeing with some of Pusey’s standards, it is impossible to ignore the dedication and integrity with which he has clung to them. Harvard has owed him thanks before, and does now.”

Pusey wrote his doctoral dissertation on Athenian democracy, and he adamantly opposed violence as a political tool.

After retiring from Harvard, he served four years as president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. From 1979 to 1980 he was president of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.

Born in 1907 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Nathan Marsh Pusey lost his father a year later. Pusey and his two siblings were brought up by their mother.

His first teaching job was tutoring a 13-year-old girl in algebra during the summer. He graduated from Harvard in 1928 and received a PhD in ancient history in 1937.

During World War II, he taught physics to Naval V-5 students at Wesleyan College. He was president of Lawrence College in Wisconsin, where he fought against McCarthyism, from 1944 to 1953. There he increased the slim endowment of the college from $100,000 to $2.5 million and nearly doubled the top level of faculty salaries.

During his tenure at Harvard, the school’s endowment grew from $304 million to more than $1 billion. It is more than $18 billion today.