Councils of Despair
The Student Council backed down Monday on about half of its objections to Associate Dean Watson's little green booklet of Rules for Undergraduate Organizations. Last year's council, which formulated these objections, had scrupulously studied the relationship between student groups and the deans and had come to the obvious conclusion that paternalism has no place at Harvard.
Why has this year's council abandoned that basic point?
This council has not listened to the representatives of almost every College organization. It has not started from the bottom of the issue, the needs of the students and the aims of the administrators. This council has not made the effort to determine on its own which controls must be maintained and which are superfluous and harmful.
Last year's council did all these things. Then it examined each rule with strict attention to necessity, desirability, practicability, and consequences. It was not the council's fault that Dean Watson and the Administrative Board chose to ignore a large part of its objections and the whole of their basis in principle. The little green sheet was enacted by the deans and printed up far too late for the fall council to consider.
With the new term, Dean Watson had a new council to deal with, and he has taken full advantage of that fact. He waited over a month before letting the council know why the deans had rejected the students' point of view. He then told the council that its objections were mere questions of wording. He pointed out that the rules had already been printed. The deans do not want to interfere with student organizations, he said; they only want to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Their duty commands that they guard the name of Harvard, and they must have the power to do it, he explained.
Besides, as Dean Watson demonstrated, the deans make the rules they want. The council can debate any matter for any period of time. It can prove beyond question the injustice or impropriety of any decision. The deans make the rules they want.
Perhaps it would be too much to expect a new council to press forever for a principle which officialdom seems determined to ignore. This council gave up the struggle. It decided to admit that the deans can, if they wish, use the "good name" of Harvard as an excuse to regulate any phase of undergraduate activity. The council resigned itself to the deans' power to pass on a new publication's policy or to forbid a public performance, on the grounds that the "good name" of Harvard is at stake.
Why does it matter that the council voted to stop quibbling over "wordings?" Why does it matter that it voted to let the deans do what they have already done! It matters because the whole debate with the student body will begin again next fall when the Rules for Undergraduate Organizations come up for re-examination, and because the deans, like all reasonable men, do not want to enforce rules which are both unnecessary and unpopular.
One can hope that next fall Dean Watson will consider more fully and more reasonably the principles of independence propounded by the 1950 Student Council and neglected Monday by an inexperienced council in a mood of resignation.
And one can hope that this council will have matured enough by September to resume the fight against paternalism, and perhaps to win.