To the Editors of the Crimson:
Charles, you need no longer be "disturbed," as you put it, about PIRG (Public Interest Research Group).
For those who missed his letter, Mr. Nichols wrote on November 2 concerning the possible formation of a Harvard chapter of Massachusetts PIRG. As the PIRG issue is likely to become an important choice for students in the next few weeks, we would like to clear up some misunderstandings at the start.
PIRG is a system of student-run, professionally staffed public interest lobbies, currently operating independently in 23 states. A chapter is established on a campus when a majority of students desire one.
Mr. Nichols thought that PIRG wanted to be funded by mandatory term bill fees from all Harvard students. This is not true.
Instead, we hope to show that a majority (or more) of students want the option of supporting a PIRG by a dues checkoff of $3 on their term bill. Checkoff implies a choice: that choice would appear automatically, and those students who do not wish to contribute would not their term bill accordingly, and receive a reduction or rebate of $3. (The administrative costs of collection would be paid for with a small percentage of the dues.)
In the Boston area, PIRG chapters exist at Tufts, The University of Massachusetts, Boston College, Brandeis, Simmons and others. Amherst, Smith and Mt. Holyoke have started them recently. Harvard, which many of us thought was a leader in things like this, has been conspicuously absent for over five years. A PIRG serves student's interests in several ways: first, it inv lves students in research and lobbying on environmental, consumer and other progressive issues. Students determine what issues to work on. And, a PIRG does local research projects which benefit students, such as comparing the services of local banks.
Clearly, Mr. Nichols' fear that the H-R Republicans, the Spartacists, and God knows who else would soon appear on the term bill and "extort" money is unfounded. Majority support (by petition) for the checkoff must be demonstrated; and then, one chooses whether to contribute. It is worthy to note that no other campus organization in any state has sustained this funding mechanism, which has built in "sunset" provisions.
The real point is a democratic principle: if a majority of students want a checkoff on their term bill for PIRG or any other organization, that alone is sufficient cause for instituting it. Should not we as students have the capacity to assess ourselves for an organization we support? People who feel the term bill is a sacred object which should be kept inaccesible to those who pay it may disagree. But a failure to respond to the expressed preference of the majority, when it is costless to the university and non-binding, is an arrogant denial of students' rights. Mary E. Babic '81 Timothy G. Massad '78