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Selections from the Stolaroff Collection
Andrew Weil's 1963 Report on Harvard's Firing of Richard Alpert
by Jon Hanna
v1.1 - Jan 2012
Citation:   Hanna J. "Andrew Weil's 1963 Report on Harvard's Firing of Richard Alpert." Oct 2011.
The Harvard Crimson - May 28, 1963
This year, Erowid crew began the process of cataloging the 5,000+ digital files (letters, photos, articles, etc.) that comprise the Stolaroff Collection. Time spent on the project has ramped up in recent months, with nearly 3,000 files now indexed.

Determining specific sorts of data from a document by quickly scanning it, rather than reading the whole thing, is challenging. The more familiar the reader is with the topic, the easier it is to spot and assess information that could impact how something is cataloged. But it is also more likely for a knowledgeable worker to become distracted by his or her personal interest in a document and end up reading the whole thing, rather than just searching it for targeted data. This is the story of such a distraction.

Born and raised in California, the year before I came into the world my home state had scheduled LSD. I've never really known a time when psychedelics have been legal. As a kid, the first book I read about altered states was The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness by Andrew Weil. After which, I said something to my mom about Timothy Leary, and she responded: "Oh that horrible man!" Leary had led the nation's youth astray, destroying their minds.

Timothy Leary: Love Him or Hate Him
Even proponents of psychedelics have strong feelings about the impact of Leary and his research team. On one side, Leary's "reckless behavior" is believed to have largely contributed to psychedelics being made illegal, or at least it hurried that process along. Letters within the Stolaroff Collection clearly express the concerns that Myron Stolaroff and other researchers worldwide had about the actions of Leary and his crew--even before the laws changed. And it is understandable that those forced into stopping their previously approved research due to the new prohibitions would be angry, frustrated, and disappointed.

On the other side, Leary fans appreciate that he "brought psychedelics to the masses". Such folks often feel that allowing the use of these compounds solely within the context of limited, government-approved applications is nearly as bad as or worse than prohibiting them entirely (q.v. Thomas Szasz's arguments).

The Harvard Crimson Reports...
In May of 1963, Leary's associate Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass) was fired from Harvard for breaking one of the restrictions placed onto his research there: that he not provide psychedelics to undergraduates. About a month before Alpert's termination, Harvard had relieved Leary of his teaching duties. In Cambridge, the story of these actions broke in a May 28, 1963 issue of The Harvard Crimson. Written by Joseph Russin and Andrew Weil, the news was considered important enough that a special additional issue of the Crimson was produced to report what had happened. In a righteous editorial, the authors commented:
"It would be unfortunate if the firing of Richard Alpert led to the suppression of legitimate research into the effects of hallucinogenic compounds. [...] 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."
Andrew Weil: Harvard Crimson Reporter.
Photo from Andrew Weil Photo Gallery
"Equally unfortunate"?

Russin and Weil continue:
"[...] 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 editorial goes on in a similar scathing vein.

At the time the critique was written, Weil was an undergraduate studying botany at Harvard. As a school newspaper reporter, he had previously written articles about psychoactives; and he continued to contribute to this area. He ultimately went on to author dozens of books, several of which focused on mind-altering plants and drugs.

But with the "special edition" coverage of the Alpert/Leary mess at Harvard, Weil had set his foot down in the "Leary is reckless" camp. Doing so exposed Weil to the vitriol of Leary supporters.

What's Up with Weil?
I read about the article describing Harvard's ejecting of Alpert and Leary many years ago and understood that some people were upset with Weil because of this article. Although I have never had strong pro-Leary or anti-Leary feelings myself, I've been a fan of Weil's since reading his first book. Shortly after that, I discovered From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs by Weil and Winifred Rosen. This book, which has gone through numerous reprintings and a couple of revisions since it first appeared in 1983, remains a standard for basic, non-judgmental information. It is written in a straightforward manner comprehensible to young people. The authors note that they grew up in the 1960s, when this sort of practical information was not easily available to kids experimenting with psychoactive drugs.

The data void experienced by youth in the 1960s returned in the mid-1980s. President and First Lady Reagan had ramped-up their war on drugs. Books presenting psychoactives in a neutral or positive light were actively pulled from bookstore and school library shelves. Erowid's core crew came of age during this second data void, and we were inspired to make factual information available because we perceived the same sort of societal need that motivated Weil and Rosen. Through the wide accessibility of the Internet a decade later, was born. At times over the years, I've viewed Erowid as an evolution of From Chocolate to Morphine.

In any case, at some point in my past, I mentally filed away the idea that Weil's Harvard Crimson article was of historic importance. But I'd never actually read the article until a few days ago, after I came across a scan of it while cataloging papers from the Stolaroff Collection. Yowsa!

The Importance of Reading Primary Documents
Erowid Center works hard to preserve and make available the stories and wisdom of older generations. Reading primary documents, such as the Crimson article, allows students of psychoactive drug culture to better understand how we got to where we are currently. I wondered: Why hadn't I read this article before? I tried to recall the last time that I'd searched through the microfiche collection at a library. I tried to remember the last time that I'd actually been to a library. Since my mind was not immediately serving up any answers to these questions, I typed the article's title into a search engine: "Corporation Fires Richard Alpert For Giving Undergraduates Drugs". Zero hits.1

Harvard Crimson Publishing Note.
Looking at the scan from Myron's files made me smile. Not only at seeing the "ten cents" price for the rag, but also at seeing the tiny snippet of newsprint--held down with yellowed tape--that explained why this special issue was published on a day that the paper normally didn't come out. Including this extra clipping for context is something that few others might have thought to do, but Stolaroff was a fastidious archivist. These are the sorts of details that are often lost when one isn't viewing a primary document--or, at least, a scan or photograph of the original thing.

Full Circle
In the years since his time as a reporter for the Crimson, Weil's contributions have had a huge impact on the alternative health movement. And, as should be expected within any controversial field, several of Weil's ideas have been characterized by others as being "non-scientific" and some even refer to him as a "quack".2 Reflecting on similar criticisms presented in the Crimson editorial, perhaps irony becomes the great equalizer. Yet while Timothy Leary is surely more famous (or infamous) than Andrew Weil, it is also worth considering that Weil is one of the most successful, renowned, and popular figures to have emerged from the psychedelic culture who has actually been embraced by many in the mainstream. (My mom, well-aware of Weil's work, would never say, "Oh that horrible man!" about him, but she might express how smart his black turtleneck looks.)

As I was poking around to see if the Crimson article was available anywhere online, I discovered Don Lattin's 2010 book that had slipped past my radar: The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. I've not yet read it, but I look forward to doing so in the near future.

Although this article has probably caused substantial grief for Dr. Weil over the years, it is important to keep in mind that Weil was an undergrad, only 20 years old at the time, and that the specificities of the criticisms he and Russin delineated were largely fair: Leary and Alpert had jumped off the traditional scientific path and had become psychedelic zealots by the time the Harvard administration started cracking down on them.

You can read the full version (3.5MB PDF) and judge for yourself. The "Corporation" mentioned in the opening sentence refers to Harvard.

Transcription of article:

Harvard Crimson


Corporation Fires Richard Alpert For Giving Undergraduates Drugs

First Dismissal Under Pusey

by Joseph M. Russin and Andrew T. Weil
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 permssion.

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."

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.
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."

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.

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.

"They [Alpert and Leary] wished to proceed in a promotional way--not a research way." Bales said, adding that Alpert was not willing to take "sufficient care in the selection and protection of his subjects." In Bales' opinion, Alpert failed to cope with the public relations problem and the "medical risks" involved.

David C. McClelland, chairman of the Social Relations department, said last night it appeared that the more Leary and Alpert took the drugs "the less they were interested in science."

Following is the complete text of the statement Alpert issued last night:

"Now that Dr. Leary and I are no longer affiliated with Harvard we along with our colleagues plan to devote our total efforts to IFIF. Our objective is to pave the way through a research and educational program to be able to provide any serious individual with an opportunity to expand his consciousness with psychedelic materials if he desires."

"To achieve the objective we have opened a new office at 14 Storey St. in Cambridge to which we welcome anyone interested in joining with us in this exploration. At the present time the Food and Drug Administration has not licensed any research with psychedelics except that sponsored by the government. Until such time as this very restrictive picture is changed we will continue an active research and training program in Mexico."

Background on Psilocybin

Alpert-Leary Furor Broke in '62

In February, 1962, when the drug investigations at the Center for Research in Personality were first publicized in the CRIMSON, Richard Alpert and Timothy F. Leary had already been running "systematic and controlled studies of the effects of psilocybin" for six months. In a letter to the CRIMSON, Alpert and Leary pointed out that their work followed University codes governing the use of subjects: "No secrecy. Careful preparatory orientation. Medical screening. On-call medical coverage. All subjects are informed volunteers. No undergraduates or minors."

The two men had obtained impressive results in giving psilocybin to artists, writers, prisoners, priests, and professors but had finished the first phase of their research. They said they were "concerned" about "the many problems created by consciousness-expanding drugs."

But other members of the Social Relations department were concerned too, and called a meeting of the Center on March 14, 1962 to debate the advisability of permitting Alpert and Leary to continue their studies. Opponents of the psilocybin work charged that the project was run nonchalantly and irresponsibly. David C. McClelland, head of the Center, expressed fears of possible permanent effects of the drugs, but said he supported the research.

The CRIMSON story on the discussion precipitated a violent controversy among University officers. One of the persons who had spoken out against the drug research protested that the CRIMSON's publication of the proceedings of an "internal meeting" was "definitely contrary to the intentions of the organizers of the meeting." In any case, the dispute had reached the public.

In response to charges made against them, Alpert and Leary denied that psilocybin could cause "psychological after-effects." Elliot Perkins '23, Master of Lowell House, called the drug experiments "more suitable for the Medical School." but on March 21, President Pusey said the University was planning no investigation of its own into the use of psilocybin at the Center for Research in Personality because there was no evidence of direct harm to any individual involved.

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 Drug 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 excersized 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 page 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 administration 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 experiment 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.

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 regulation 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 abridgement 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.

Pusey Text #

Richard Alpert's appointment as Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology and of Education was to have terminated June 30, 1963. However, to honor a verbal promise made to him by Mr. Keppel before his resignation as Dean, on January 7 this year the Harvard Corporation voted Dr. Alpert an extension of his appointment in the School of Education for an additional year. At its most recent meeting it voted to terminate both the present and the prospective appointments effective immediately.

This action was taken (1) because it has recently been determined that in the spring of 1962 Dr. Alpert violated an agreement which he had entered into in November, 1961, not to involve undergraduates in his work with drugs (it was an additional part of this agreement that no students would be used before they had been cleared for such activity by a member of the medical staff of the University Health Services); and (2) because subsequently, in November, 1962, he assured an officer of administration of the University that he had not given drugs to any undergraduate.