The RGA

Brass Tacks

"All of us who are concerned with the college's problems should get together to work them out," Mrs. Bunting suggested in December, 1961, introducing the concept of "community government." Although this concept motivated the change from a "Student Government Association" to a "Radcliffe Government Association," Radcliffe is just beginning to explore its implications.

After her arrival in 1960 Mrs. Bunting made several changes which led indirectly to more community government: she introduced the House system in conjunction with a new organization of the deans' offices. Both these innovations were intended to encourage greater communication between the administration of the college, students, and faculty. But the existing Student Government Association functioned independently of the administration--and for that matter of most of the students. Only a few dedicated undergraduates actively participated in the three functions which SGA's constitution outlined: furthering "the best interests of the student body and the college" (which involved studying problems like mean contracts and the use of Agassiz), maintaining the honor system, and regulating Radcliffe student organizations. Mergers with Harvard activities had in large degree eliminated the third function.

SGA rewrote its constitution after Mrs. Bunting suggested a "community government." A few drafts later, RGA officially came into existence, obviously different in structure from its predecessor: the voting body now included administrators as well as students.

The functional differences between the two organizations were not immediately apparent, but they seem to have fallen into two categories. First, RGA, unlike its predecessor, can determine social rules. Its preoccupation with that function throughout this year has prevented it from exploring its second major function--to advise (as opposed to legislate) on almost any area of college life. To be sure, the old SGA could do this, but RGA's two presidents have stressed that having students and administrators meet together reduces the problem of communication between them and adds weight to RGA's opinions. Lois M. Rieser '64, RGA's current president, has suggested some of the areas which RGA could explore next year--the House system, admissions policy, educational policy.

Mrs. Bunting emphasizes the importance of this advisory power: "Many people think that to influence policy they must make the final decision; nothing could be less true." She stresses that, to her, student participation is not a "learning experience" for the students but rather "the most promising way of running Radcliffe."

The new organization's two major functions have posed several problems. The very concept which inspired RGA remains foreign to many students and administrators. They still tend to envision any form of student participation as a determined group of undergraduates badgering the administration. The CRIMSON editorial congratulating the new organization on the appointment of administrators to its council reflected this view: "The fact that the administration controls only three votes out of forty preserves the useful illusion of student autonomy." As Dean Mattfeld, who serves as Administrative Vice-President of RGA, pointed out, the organization's success depends on the realization that the administration is not interfering in student legislation--instead students are advising in administrative decisions. Even after accepting this fact, many students continue to prefer student legislation in more clear-cut, through narrow fields to the "joining of the minds" in the broad areas on which RGA advises. One reason is that a student council is generally less dependent on the cooperation of the administration.

RGA's relation to the Radcliffe House System remains unclear. College officials have suggested that RGA should deal with matters of college-wide concern while the Houses plan projects for smaller groups. But the two systems have overlapped in such areas as "co-curricular" talks by faculty and visiting speakers. Many students feel that the two organizations are incompatible. "They seem like two different communities," one girl said.

RGA's most fundamental problem is that many students do not accept the idea of a Radcliffe community: they feel closer ties to Harvard. Although RGA can organize non-credit seminars, living room talks and even discuss academic improvements, Harvard will always retain control of the classroom.

Now that the rules issue will not emerge from committee until November, RGA can explore other aspects of its role and find out what "community government" means.