Power at Harvard
(This is the second of a two-part serialization of the Report to the HUC on Decision-Making at Harvard. Yesterday's feature dealt with education decisions. Today, the author concludes with social and financial decisions.)
The HUC has always been powerless, by anyone's standards. Its president, Stephan Kaplan '69, says, "We will never be a legislative body, only an advisory one." Unfortunately, most people have not had Kaplan's experience of knocking futilely on the doors of power. These people, including some members of the Council itself, are mislead by the HUC's legislative appearance, by the reporting of its motions in the CRIMSON, and by the Council's unique position as the undergraduates' only representative body. Because HUC meetings are conducted in a legislative manner, it is concluded that the HUC is a decision-making body. Not so. All the HUC legislates is advice.
Last spring, the HUC passed a highly significant motion calling for student seats on all faculty committees. We sent the proposal to the CEP and Committee on Houses (COH) and crossed our fingers. In time, both groups sent back ambiguous letters of rejection; and they invited us in to talk about it. We could do nothing except change our minds and agree with them or wait a year and try again. Doing either meant abdicating our responsibility to the student body. Yet the alternative was confrontation politics, something that the HUC, which acts with its hands rather than its feet, could not pull off. As long as we allow the faculty and administration the prerogative to reject valid student proposals on social issues, the HUC will remain effective only at the paternalistic pleasure of those groups.
Take parietals, for another good example. This is the only case on record in which the Committee on Houses acted positively on an HUC proposal. Why? Not because of any respect for student body opinion, certainly. Just one year before the COH had completely ignored a college-wide poll which showed students unanimously supporting increased parietals. Actually, the COH's well-timed acquiescence was motivated by militant pressure tactics from radical student groups--a sleep-in was threatened. A second factor was the increasing absurdity of Harvard's parietal position as colleges like Wellesley instituted hours that were twice as long as our own.
Now the main reason that the HUC is powerless is that it is so conscientious. That is, it feels it must follow the ground rules by which student-administration social life games are played. These rules are established by the COH and the administration. They state the obvious: unless you agree with us, we won't let you do anything.
In this respect, the HPC has more power. They are in greater agreement with the faculty and administration and their parent group, the CEP, about the viability of the present system of education than the HUC is with the faculty, the administration, or the COH about the viability of the present system of socialization. There are three more specific reasons for the supposed failure of the HUC compared to the HPC. (1) The HUC deals with potentially sensational issues--generational rather than educational--which could drag Harvard's name into the public mud. (2) The HUC is inherently a non-academic group and, therefore, creates a much less favorable set of expectations with the decision-makers. (3) The HUC must deal with the outlandishly unreceptive COH, rather than the more sympathetic CEP.
Committee on Houses
Harvard's conventional wisdom says that power over undergraduates' social affairs is vested in the COH. This is about 90 per cent patent untruth, though it is probably to the advantage of the administration to allow such a false impression to continue. Discontented students will waste all their time trying to deal with the antiquated Committee. In fact, the COH has a great deal of power only by comparison to the absolute impotency of student groups, like the HUC.
What, exactly, has the COH done in the last four or five years? It has discussed changing the method of assigning freshmen to Houses, increasing parietals, and student seating on faculty committees -- bird seed compared to questions like coeducation and a more relevant House system. The latter issues are the type which do indeed decide the social make-up of Harvard, and on these the COH has no power whatsoever. It has no control over social policy-setting matters; it merely oversees specific problems that arise. And even for these small problems, the Committee usually bows to the will of the administration. Dudley House's Master Crooks agrees. In an interview last year he said, "We have never done anything important."
Consider the House assignment debate; the Masters talked for four years about the problem and couldn't come up with a solution. Finally, they turned it over to Dean Ford and asked him to make a decision. This shows the structural limitation inherent in the COH. The Masters feel fierce competition among thesemlves as representatives of the different Houses. They evaluate each proposed social reform in terms of how it will affect their own House's "prestige" or "position" vis-a-vis the other Houses. Since each proposal which comes before the Committee is bound to "lower" some Houses and "elevate" others, no issue stands a chance of generating the kind of unity necessary for passage.
"I can't think of any issue this goddamned commtitee ever did solve," said Master Crooks, who has been a COH member since the House assignment debates of five years ago. He added, "A vote has never decided anything on this committee. We always end up turning everything over to Dean Ford, saying 'We can't decide,' and he ends up making the decisions."
This structural limitation explains why the COH deals with small problems rather than policy decisions. When a decision-making body can't even reach a consensus on the few issues thrust upon it by the rapidly changing outside world, the question of the ability of that body to initiate meaningful farsighted reform becomes irrelevant. The city of Cambridge would have to enter the Twilight Zone before the COH as presently constructed would ever initiate any of the social reforms so obviously desired at Harvard College.
An equally important impediment to the effectiveness of the COH is its age. The members are basically out of touch with the present, our present. Once again, parietals provides insight to the workings of the Committee. Not only were its views contrary to the students', but they also conflicted with the general opinion of the faculty. For a guide to the faculty's opposition to the COH's guiding principle of en loco parentis, see John Kenneth Galbraith's letter to the CRIMSON in fall, 1967, when he attacks the idiocy and humiliation of parietals and paternalism in general.
But, one may argue, the Masters live in the Houses and constantly communicate with students. The important question, however, is how do the Masters live in the Houses? To find the answer, ask another question. With what type of student does the Master most often come into contact? And another. What type of student enjoys having tea with the Master and his wife? How many students feel natural and enjoy themselves when the Master sits at their dining table? A growing number of students do not enjoy such activities and, thus, a growing number of students are completely out of touch with the persons who make the decisions which affect their social lives.
As Henry Norr '68 explained, "The Committee on Houses is not representative of the faculty sentiment as a whole, but of a small segment of men who have a vested interest in being paternalistic rulers of a boys' dormitory: being a Master means you have certain preconceptions as to what the social make-up of Harvard should be."
The COH's limitations of age and structure were well illustrated in its non-decision regarding student seating. For the first hour of the debate between the HUC and COH, the Masters offered a barrage of reasons for the impossibility of such an innovation. Finally, Master Zeph Stewart confronted the Committee with what he considered to be the real reason for their opposition. "We haven't given any good reasons for not letting students on," Stewart said. "In fact, there is no philosophical reason why they shouldn't sit on the Committee. The problem is simply one of ages. We would feel stupid if they were to attend our meetings on a regular basis."
The COH debate over seating gave the impression that they had the power to do something. The fact is that the meeting resolved nothing, and after the talking was over the COH turned the problem over to Dean Ford, who wrote a personal letter to the HUC, explaining the rejection of the proposal "as a representative of the COH."
So the COH has precious little power. It is the administration that holds the social control over students' lives and defines the ways in which they will live at Harvard. The administration expresses its will to the COH in several ways. First, through the several administrators who sit on the Committee itself. The second, more subtle, way is through the experience of the Masters themselves; they know the fact of life that the administration has control over any decision which involves basic policy.
The inferior position of the Masters vis-a-vis the administration was illustrated in the HUC-COH debate on seating. Master Smithies asked us why we wanted seating on the Committee. We replied that we wanted to influence the important decisions: funding a new athletic building, constructing the underpass, tenth house, tuition hikes, investment and endowment decisions. Smithies was incredulous; "We're as interested as you are in changing these decisions, but you know they just can't be changed by us, that's all. Those decisions are made in the high-level stratosphere of the administration!"
Dean Glimp can protest that "Students ARE involved in decision-making," as he has done time and time again. But it is clear that these claims are valid only in the most grossly paternalistic context. In the last five years, students have been invited to participate in several university decisions: COH subcommittee on parietals, Gill subcommttee on the tenth House, Ad Board review, Admission Committee review, House Study Committee. None of these were sincere attempts to incorporate student opinion.
Though the proposals of the parietal subcommitee were accepted, the group was formed by the administration only after it had decided that significant change was necessary to avoid unsightly publicity.
According to two of the three students on the Gill subcommittee, Peter Weller, HPC, and Larry Lawrence, HUC, students contributed nothing to that faculty-administration decision. They were invited to the first and last meeting and denied entrance to any of the meetings in between. It appeared to them that the committee members already had their minds made up. In fact, the students did not even have access to information. At one point, they requested figures on the increase, if any, in off-campus fees after Mather became operative. The Committee members admitted knowledge of the figures, but said the amount of the increase was secret until approved by the Board of Overseers. In other words, the students could not have the pertinent information until the decision was already made.
In the last three instances, the administrators merely made an official request for student testimony. The students had no continued presence, futile or not, on the decision-making bodies.
From the record, we must conclude that students are not truly "involved" in decision-making until they play an equal or dominant role, until they actually have responsibility. Dean Glimp tually have responsibility. Dean Glimp's personal definition of "student involvement" is revealed in a suggestion he made to the HUC president and vice-president at the beginning of 1968. "I really want the HUC to get involved in the decision-making process this year. And I've done some thinking about just what would be the right way. There's been a lot of talk about a new athletic building within the next ten years. Why don't you guys set that up as your big project for this year? You could really do a lot of good on that."
Students get almost nothing from participating in decisions as they have done in the past: at the whim and fancy of the administration. All previous examples of student participation have been the meanest instances of tokenisms.
Why has the administration so thoroughly rebuffed student attempts to share in decision-making power? Because the administration does the University's long-range financial planning and it jealously guards this vital decision-making tool. It is this power of the purse that enables the administration to wield direct control over social matters and indirect control over educational ones.
Of course this is not the rationale usually offered for refusing student participation. Usually administrators' reasons are vague and unreal. Dean Von Stade has said, "Student participation just wouldn't be the same if it were institutionalized." Edward T. Wilcox, Director of The Program of General Education, has explained it more simply, "It's just out of the question, that's all." Dean Glimp just shrugs and says, "It's the principle of the thing. I guess we just see things a different way." Dean Watson has answered the question by saying, "Look, if students don't like this place, they don't have to come here."
At other times, their reasons are sharp and to the point. Dean Glimp has said, "A private university like Harvard just cannot afford to decentralize the decision-making structure." And Dean Trottenberg told students who wanted seating, "The people who give money to Harvard seem to be quite pleased with the way the school is run right now. Will you be able to run it as effectively?"
These men must be given the credit they deserve for removing the financial motivation of decision-making from most discussions. If it were well-known, student protest would be much more dangerous. When they do discuss financial decisions, administrators cherish the impression that policy decisions are dictated by economic necessity. Actually, the policy decisions are made, then the financial criteria are set up accordingly. For instance, administrators usually counter the arguments of reformers by claiming that this or that change "would be too expensive." Thus, we must raise tuition, but, they say, we "can't afford" to raise scholarships. Or, we can't invest part of the endowment in Roxbury because "we can't afford to lose all that interest." In hiding behind this economic determinism, the administration avoids confronting the reforms on their own merits.
Administrators say they have little control over how our $1 billion endowent is spent. They claim that most of the funds are "tied"--the term applied to a money gift when it stipulates a specific expenditure. Actually, Harvard's University Fund, which holds all the untied money, compises almost one-third of the total endowment. Last year, more than $25 million of the total $130 million which Harvard received in gifts was untied. So administrators have ample funds to use at their own discretion.
For example, the administration announced last year that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences had fallen into the "red." What that meant, really, was that the Faculty had spent more than the planners had decided it deserved. They had decided that the University's money could be better used elsewhere--like for the underpass, which cost $2 million.
What about the tuition hike without a commensurate raise in scholarships? This, too, is economic double-talk which conceals specific political priorities. In a term paper on University financial decisions written for David Riesman last spring, David Labaree '69 concludes:
The fact is, that with real expenses rising linearly and the investments rising exponentially, Harvard cannot lose over time by allowing the endowment to shoulder more of the burden which student fees now carry....The lowered growth rate will over time approach the old higher rate asymptotically.
Conventional wisdom has it that while the Board of Overseers has the final legal power over university decisions, the Corporation is the real financial planning body of Harvard. This is quite alarming because the five-man Corporation is dominated by super-rich big businessmen and is self-perpetuating to boot.
Actually, the Corporation is little more than a rubber stamp for the recommendations of President Pusey and Treasurer Bentinck-Smith. And the latter's proposals are prepared by the team of "experts" in Massachusetts Hall known as the administrators. Of course, the administration cannot make decisions contrary to the interests of the wealthy businessmen who compose the Corporation. So their decisions must allow Harvard to make an ever increasing amount of money above cost. This means Harvard must present a "good image," and, ultimately, that student activity must be kept in line with what is acceptable to that particularly conservative element of society