THE Committee on Rights and Responsibilities has just suffered its sharpest setback. By huge majorities, undergraduates have rejected participation on the CRR and dashed its claims to University-wide legitimacy.
Clearly, the sponsors of the CRR's student selection process have been badly shocked at their own failure to produce a single student representative for the committee. Administration officials are already attempting to undermine the significance of the student vote. The only appropriate subject of the referendum, they say, was student representation on the CRR, not the ground rules of the committee itself. But the selection formula is not all that the student referendum has defeated. By quitting their participation in the current CRR, undergraduates have decided that they will no longer recognize the committee's authority to sentence them for political crimes.
The CRR, however, can still operate with student vacancies; it will doubtless do so. But this only shows how superfluous students are within the present setup. Token representation on disciplinary committees was never more than a political bone tossed at students, and a meager one at that. After almost two years of student participation on such committees, it has become obvious that students will never have any real say in their own discipline unless they can set the guidelines and implement them as well.
ALTHOUGH it was set up to discipline students, the CRR was exclusively an agent of the Administration and Faculty. Before its creation, discipline was meted out by the Administration and reviewed by the Faculty. After the disturbances of 1969, however, it became too politically embarrassing for the Administration to continue punishing protesters; and the Faculty no longer wanted unpleasant matters of discipline to fill their meeting time.
By now, a rigid pattern has been established: the Administration routinely makes use of the committee to press charges against radical students, and the Faculty always ratifies whatever the committee proposes-except the one time when CRR spokesmen suggested a mild statement of Administrative and Faculty responsibility.
As a result, the committee has become increasingly powerful and immune to such ordinary sanctions as judicial review. The admission of hearsay evidence, the lack of a separate panel to handle appeals, the use of explicitly political questioning; each of these violations of common legal practice is regularly committed by the CRR, making a mockery of its pretensions to the role of an impartial judicial committee. For these reasons, the CRR as presently constituted can no longer he allowed to operate.
But it is not enough to reject the CRR entirely without considering an alternative form of discipline. Whenever the question was raised in the referendum, students voted overwhelmingly that they favored some sort of disciplinary body. And since the Administration and Faculty have refused to provide an equitable form of student discipline, then undergraduates must create one by themselves.
Harvard students should meet and set up a disciplinary body of their own. They should write their own disciplinary rules and elect their own representatives. If permanent Faculty members alone can decide who gets tenure, then it should be the students who have the final say in what their collective obligations should be. Only then will be disciplinary system be fair to them.
As a first step, student representatives should draw up guidelines that will form the basis of the new system. The Faculty, in turn, must be made to accept it. Students should lobby individual professors, petition the Faculty as a whole, and otherwise make it clear that no form of student discipline but their own will function effectively.
Until a new system is approved, students and others should make it as difficult as they can for the present CRR to operate. A boycott of the committee by all those who are called as witnesses or representatives, an attempt to dissuade individual Faculty members from serving on the committee, picketing and other forms of peaceful protest whenever the committee meets; these will all be necessary to prevent the committee from operating.
FINALLY, students should demand amnesty for the hundreds of students who have already been disciplined by the committee. Since it is common legal practice to overturn decisions that have been made in violation of judicial procedure, the CRR's numerous violations of procedure have already made amnesty a necessary first step in restoring fairness to student discipline. And since hundreds of careers and reputations have already been damaged by the CRR's grossly unjust operations, the University should be compelled to make a public apology for the committee's actions. With such an apology, a firm basis for equitable student discipline will have been laid.