Secrecy at Harvard


NEGOTIATIONS about all aspects of the Harvard-Radcliffe relationship are hardly new. Over the past 95 years, the two institutions have found it necessary to work out agreements concerning almost every sphere of mutual interest--undergraduates, housing, faculty, maintenance, etc. This year, committees are studying several of these parts of the Harvard-Radcliffe relationship. The recommendations from these committees, all expected by the end of the academic year, should shape the future of undergraduate admissions policies, financial arrangements and corporate structures of what now are two separate, but interconnected, institutions.

It is unlikely that a final agreement about the most feasible technical relationship between Harvard and Radcliffe will be reached this year, because of the tremendous financial and corporate implications. But the admissions dilemma, while controversial and contradictory, boils down to two basic questions. First, the two institutions must decide whether to increase the number of women in the undergraduate college. Second, if such an increase is deemed desirable, there must be a choice whether to decrease the number of men, increase the number of total students or both.

THERE are obviously many more complications to these questions that the committee chaired by Karl Strauch, professor of Physics, must deal with before making any recommendations to Presidents Bok and Horner. But the Strauch Committee is still expected to submit its final report in February and it is conceivable that, if approved, the changes they outline could begin to be instituted in 1975-76.

Like most specially appointed University committees, the Strauch Committee is formulating its recommendations in private and will only offer them to the community after giving the final report to Bok and Horner. While the committee has solicited outside information from other universities and asked interested groups and individuals to present testimony, the weekly meetings are generally closed to outsiders. The minutes are strictly for the use of committee members and will not be released even after the committee has finished its task. Strauch has emphasized to reporters and members of his committee that he should be the only spokesman for the group.

Strauch insists that the meetings must remain private if the members are to air their opinions openly, without fear of coming under public scrutiny for them. If the meetings are opened to the public or the minutes released, the committee cannot possibly get the frank discussion necessary to evaluate the full range of opinions and implications of each alternative, he says.

Strauch's argument in favor of secrecy is understandable. Since beginning its weekly meetings last semester, a wide range of opinions and evidence from committee members and outsiders has surfaced. It is probable that had the hearings been open to the public, much of the testimony would have been watered down or stifled--many, especially those presenting statistics or arguments outlining the problems of increasing the number of women here, would not have been so pointed in their discussions. Headlines in The Crimson saying that so and so told the Strauch Committee yesterday that the education of women at Harvard is still of secondary importance would have discouraged those who felt that way from coming forward.

IT IS IMPORTANT that all the opinions of Harvard and Radcliffe students, alumni, administrators and faculty reach the Strauch Committee. However, it is equally important that the community know the general directions in which the committee is heading. This is especially necessary if the committee does not have time to issue a preliminary report this fall, as Strauch now says it may not.

The Strauch Committee has encouraged testimony from all quarters, but has not dividuals as originally anticipated. It is likely that many--especially students--would prefer to be a part of the process of deliberation, rather than simply going on record as favoring one alternative or another. Once the committee's preferences become known, there will undoubtedly be far more outside interest. If the community does not have the opportunity to react to the recommendations of the committee until after they have gone to Bok and Horner, much of the input that Strauch claims is necessary will be lost. By formulating recommendations in private, the Strauch Committee is even likely to further polarize the current range of opinion--once recommendations become official, those who disagree with them are forced to attempt to change them by mass petitioning, demonstrations or other means that discourage compromise and reasonable discussion. Strong opposition to recommendations suddenly sprung upon the community is liable to leave a sour note to whatever resolution Harvard and Radcliffe decide upon.

FEW PEOPLE are seriously interested in what the individuals who testify before the committee are saying. Indeed, there seems little reason to make the testimony itself public if it would discourage open discussion. But it is important that the alternatives that the committee is discussing and the gist of their deliberations over each be disseminated to the public before the committee begins to hammer out its final recommendations this fall. Strauch strongly emphasizes that while he and most others on the committee have preferences, they are no where near any group resolutions. Discussions with other members of the committee tend to confirm this. However, it also appears that at least a plurality of the 16 members tentatively favors a solution to the admissions question that many undergraduates have long opposed--a gradual increase in the overall size of the college to bring in more women. The problems of building a new undergraduate house and further straining the educational resources available to students make suggestions to increase the size of the college unpopular with those who will suffer by them. In addition, the gradual increase in women here and the adherence to decreasing ratios over the years that this implies is not a satisfactory solution for many undergraduates. Although these are not necessarily the answers the Strauch Committee will recommend, there is a possibility that the secret deliberations of the committee will culminate in recommendations not satisfactory to any of the groups in the community.

Discussions of the corporate relationship between Harvard and Radcliffe are probably best handled in private by those ultimately concerned--the officials of both institutions. But the 16 members of the Strauch Committe are hardly the only individuals who will be affected by future admissions policies of Harvard and Radcliffe. These involve the entire University community and as such the Strauch Committee should work with the community in its task if it is truly to come to the best resolution for everyone. Private meetings of the Strauch Committee are necessary and desirable in some instances, but a complete veil of secrecy is unjustified and harmful for the University.