For A Referendum
A petition, presently circulating throughout the University asks the Harvard administration to refrain from supplying information on class rank, either directly to draft boards or to students themselves, until a referendum can be held to determine undergraduate opinion on the question. The petition is sensibly worded and deserves wide-spread support.
Harvard originally planned to send class ranks directly to draft boards if individual students so requested. Recently the University sought to dissociate itself from the Selective Service System by deciding to send class rank information only to students. But no amount of twisting and turning can disguise two facts: First, no student enjoys more than the shadow of choice if the University begins distributing class ranks; many, perhaps most, of those students who decide not to supply their boards with the available information will be suspected and penalized by the local boards. Second, several years ago the University ceased figuring class rank because the lists produced an atmosphere in which severe competition and petty comparisons unnecessarily complicated the learning process.
In short, this issue of class ranking confronts the administration with a major question of educational policy, a question of substantial importance to students. Surely the administration should give the matter more thought than it has, and it is hardly unreasonable to suggest that the students themselves, who stand to suffer the most, ought to be consulted in some orderly manner. No one is asking the administration to consider the proposed referendum as anything more than that, a mechanism of consultation. The outcome of the vote would be in no way binding, but would merely provide the administration one more factor to weigh in making its decision.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of a referendum. There are many different reasons, of self-interest or ideology, to vote one way or the other. But a fairly simple, and we think persuasive, case can be made for voting against the computation and distribution of class ranks.
Such a vote represents a sound attitude toward educational policy. The pressure for grades already distorts the educational process here, inducing many ambitious students to opt for gut courses and to treat all courses simply as obstacles on the way to a degree and a graduate school. To avoid adding to the pressure of grades, the University has in the past wisely ignored the demands of many institutions and programs which request class rank information from applicants.
It has been suggested that ignoring the Selective Service in the same way would be "irresponsible." The spectre of civil disobedience is raised; one is urged to consider the consequences of a "great university breaking the law." This is nonsense. There is nothing in the draft law requiring the university to computer rank lists. Civil disobedience is hardly involved. The fact that the Selective Service System is a governmentinstitution should have no effect on Harvard's general policy; the National Science Foundation is also government-run, and the University refuses to provide it with class rank information. The charge of "irresponsibility" is also misdirected. As a large and prestigious university, Harvard, can not only afford to take a stand on this issue, but has a "responsibility" to provide the leadership which would allow many smaller institutions to resists outside influences on their educational policies.
Some students will obviously be hurt by this policy: Those with very high grades and very low draft exam scores. This is, however, a very small group, far smaller than the group which would be hurt by the release of class rank information. It can be argued of course that all students will be penalized by the withholding policy, for it is possible that draft boards will become incensed at Harvard's stubbornness and take out their displeasure on the individual students. Despite its reputation, however, the local board is rarely so irrational as this. In the final analysis it is impossible to make a precise estimation of who will suffer how much under each university class rank policy. The gains and losses seem to us to be fairly evenly distributed. This being the case, the effect of each policy on the educational process should be the deciding factor.