‘Roles’ & ‘Games’ In William James – Weil/Russin

The Crimson Takes Leary, Alpert to Task

‘Roles’ & ‘Games’ In William James

An Editorial

It would be unfortunate if the firing of Richard Alpert led to the suppression of legitimate research into the effects of hallucinogenic compounds. Such drugs as mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD may be of real value in scientific studies of the mind and in the treatment of mental disorders. But it would have been equally unfortunate if Dr. Alpert had been allowed to continue his activities under the aegis of a University that he has misinformed about his purposes.

His claim to be a disinterested scientific researcher is itself debatable; from the very first, he and his associate, Timothy F. Leary, have been as much propagandists for the drug experience as investigators of it. They are so convinced of the benefits of these drugs that they have dispensed with many normal research procedures; for example, they have conducted some of their experiments in highly informal settings. They have been lax about screening potential recipients of the drugs; indeed, they have urged many who have expressed a casual interest in the drugs to try them for themselves. Far from exercising the caution that characterizes the public statements of most scientists, Leary and Alpert, in their papers and speeches, have been given to making the kind of pronouncement about their work that one associates with quacks.

The shoddiness of their work as scientists is the result less of incompetence than of a conscious rejection of scientific ways of looking at things. Leary and Alpert fancy themselves prophets of a psychic revolution designed to free Western man from the limitations of consciousness as we know it. They are contemptuous of all organized systems of action–of what they call the “roles” and “games” of society. They prefer mystical ecstasy to the fulfillment available through work, politics, religion, and creative art, yet like true revolutionaries they will play these games to further their own ends. And even more like revolutionaries, they have not hesitated to break the rules of these games when it has suited their ends. They have not been professors at Harvard–they have been playing “the professor game,” and their cynicism has led them to disregard University regulations and standards of good faith. They have violated the one condition Harvard placed upon their work; that they not use undergraduates as subjects for drug experiments.

In general, they have feigned adherence to “the science game” only to give a veneer of respectability to practices antipathetic to the ethics of a university. These practices are not random lapses; they stem from a philosophy that denies the intellectual and moral premises on which a university is based. Universities are built on traditions of open-mindedness, intellectual discipline, and precision of thought and expression. Leary and Alpert show no devotion to these things.

In tacit recognition of the incompatibility of their work with a university environment, they have established a private organization–the International Foundation for Internal Freedom. Leary has already left the University to devote his full energies to this group, and Alpert had also planned to spend much of his time with the Foundation during his year at the School of Education.

Dr. Alpert’s dismissal should not be construed as an abridgment of academic freedom. The University has supported his researches and has been more than reasonable in the precautions it has asked him to take. In dismissing him, it reacted to wilful repudiation of these safeguards. But surely the University has not taken this exceptional step in response to mere misdemeanors. In firing Richard Alpert, Harvard has dissociated itself not only from flagrant dishonesty but also from behavior that is spreading infection throughout the academic community. 

May 28, 1963

The Corporation has terminated the appointment of Richard Alpert as assistant professor of Clinical Psychology and of Education for violating a University agreement by giving consciousness-expanding drugs to an undergraduate, President Pusey told the Crimson yesterday.

Pusey also said that Timothy F. Leary, Lecturer on Clinical Psychology, was relieved of his teaching duties and had his salary terminated on April 30 for leaving Cambridge and his classes without permission.

In his statement to the Crimson, Pusey said Alpert had violated an agreement with the University not to give consciousness-expanding drugs such as psilocybin and mescaline to undergraduates. The statement also implied that Alpert had lied to an officer of the University last November when he “assured” the Administration that “he had not given drugs to any undergraduate.”

Alpert’s appointment as assistant professor of Clinical Psychology was to have expired June 30, but he also held an appointment through next year at the School of Education. The Corporation’s action terminated both of these appointments effective immediately.

Leary, who has been closely associated with Alpert in psilocybin studies, left Harvard for California and Mexico some weeks ago. Pusey said Leary had given the University no formal notification of his departure.

In a statement issued late last night Alpert failed to comment on the Corporation’s actions or its reasons. He said that since he was “no longer affiliated with Harvard” he and Leary “plan to devote our total efforts to IFIF.” The statement indicated Alpert planned to give the drugs to “any serious individual” who desired to “expand his consciousness.”

Writing to the President and the Corporation last week, Alpert said Harvard has been a “fearless leader in providing a climate of encouragement and support for historically significant exploration and discovery.” He claimed his work with “psychedelic substances” is “just such exploration.”

Brendan A. Maher, research associate in the Laboratory of Social Relations, said last night that provisions had been made for grading the final examination in Richard Alpert’s course, Psychology 143. The examination was given last Friday.

The President emphasized yesterday that despite the strong action of the Corporation, the University has no objection to “responsible” research with consciousness-expanding drugs. Alpert is the only Faculty member to be dismissed since Pusey became President in 1953, although a few men have “resigned under duress.”

The University has had serious doubts about the nature of the drug research conducted by Alpert and Leary for some time, but took the action yesterday on the basis of definite evidence received in the last few weeks.

Last fall a committee of the Laboratory of Social Relations failed to come to an agreement with Alpert on controls for the drug research, and the Laboratory and Alpert agreed the research could not continue at Harvard. Yesterday’s decision was not related to the methods of Alpert’s investigation, but solely to his unauthorized use of at least one undergraduate as a research subject.

Robert F. Bales, Director of the Laboratory, said last night that Alpert was unwilling to relinquish drugs he intended for his personal use, claiming he had a citizen’s right to possess them. In view of this the Laboratory felt it was impossible to establish “proper control of the drugs.”

Bales said Alpert’s colleagues were “subjected to unpleasant pressures” while the investigations were being discussed. Many members of the department felt Alpert was not conducting his work with a scientific approach.

Less than a week later, however, the Deputy Commissioner of the State Health Department expressed the opinion that “psilocybin falls into the classification of drugs that must be administered by a physician.” Alpert disagreed with the opinion.

By now, the publicity attendant on the drug Investigations had attracted the attention of the Massachusetts Food and Drugs Division, which, in April 1962, launched an inquiry into Alpert’s and Leary’s work. On April 16, this agency decided that the research could continue only if physicians were present while the drugs were administered. Subsequently a Faculty committee was named to “advise and oversee” future studies of psilocybin. This group met informally several times, but exercised very little supervision. At the end of the spring term of 1962, the drug issue seemed settled. It wasn’t.

In October 1962, Leary announced the formation of the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF), a private organization to administer and investigate consciousness-expanding drugs. One month later, Dean Monro and Dana L. Farnsworth, director of University Health Services, became alarmed at growing undergraduate interest in drugs and the increasing circulation of illegally obtained drugs. They issued a statement warning undergraduates that these compounds “may result in serious hazard to the mental health and stability even of apparently normal persons.”

Within a few days, rumors of vast drug black markets in Harvard Square had made the front pages of Boston papers. Monro and Farnsworth repeated their warning. Monro called the drugs “a serious psychiatric hazard” and said, “I don’t like anyone urging our undergraduates to use them.”

Alpert and Leary in a long letter to the Crimson attacked this official University position, calling it “conservative from the administrative point of view” but “reckless and inaccurate from the scientific.”

As in the spring, this publicity aroused the interest of law enforcement agencies, and the Federal Food and Drug Administration admitted it was investigating illegal sales of hallucinogenic drugs in Cambridge. No results of this investigation were announced.

Alpert and Leary next appeared in the news in February 1963, when their “communal home” in Newton involved them in zoning litigation. In March, the two psychologists started an extensive recruiting campaign for IFIF. In the literature they mailed to many persons in Cambridge, they said they had separated their researches amicably from the University.

In a speech at Leverett House on May 1, 1963. Alpert expressed regret that Harvard had found it necessary to rule that no undergraduates could take part in his experiments and said he hoped that those who did not understand the drugs or feared new developments would not prevent him and others from continuing the experiments.