Did you ever wonder why a great college like Harvard is screwed up in so many little ways?
Did you curse silently (silently since nobody listens anyway) because the College has no optional meal plan and you pay for meals you don't eat?
Or because undergraduates are charged $10 an hour to play tennis?
Or because the stodgy old Law School could change its calendar but we can't?
Or because there are not enough reserve books in Lamont or free toilet paper for the River Houses--or because the deans make up students' minds with only token input from an amorphous alphabet-soup-bowl-full of so-called student-faculty committees?
Or because the CUE Guide no longer gives grading statistics and the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility does not have the resources to prevent Harvard from selling its corporate soul to the highest bidder?
Or because we are the only major college you know of without a student center?
Do you ever wonder why we don't have a student government association?
Perhaps the answer to the first ten problems above is contained in the answer to the last question. Don't you find it odd that Harvard is probably the only college in the United States without some form of central student government? Even the graduate and professional schools at Harvard have student associations. We do not.
We used to. Until 1969 Harvard had what was called the Undergraduate Council. But it reached a crisis when its politics and influence no longer fit the student mood, which by 1969 had turned very radical, very quickly.
You have to keep in mind that ten years ago Harvard really was the way you feared it might be after watching Love Story--coats and ties to dinner in all-male dorms with parietals, a more homogenous student body, and even sports on the front page of The Crimson! The students were tired of being told how to live, and they demanded a direct role in formulating University policy. In an effort to restore harmony to embattled Harvard, a generally conservative administration under President Nathan M. Pusey '28 agreed to set up a new, experimental system--student-faculty committees. Thus, CHUL, CRR, and CUE were born while the old Undergraduate Council was put out to pasture.
The experiment, however, has been a failure. As a vehicle for policy input and student unity, today's system just does not do what those 1000 men of Harvard who assembled at Soldier's Field that night in 1969 intended it to do. It is not that the people who were on these committees are bad, it is just that acting alone, these independent legislators (many of whom also serve on the Constitutional Convention) do not have the resources to solicit student opinion or to fight the good fight when the administration makes a mistake. Their vote, even at those rare times when it is coherent, can easily be overwhelmed by the lopsided faculty-administration majority. They have no control over the agenda and so cannot take any initiative that does not coincide with the deans' sentiments. CUE members have no idea whether their recommendations are even presented to the Faculty Council.
What is really needed is a united student organization to poll student opinion, to research and brainstorm, to lobby and to provide a base for action when the student body believes it has been wronged. A student government association would do this--and much more.
Assume for a moment that CHUL, CRR, CUE and ERG are all perfectly representative of student opinion, that there is coordination between them, and that the few students on them have the resources and wherewithal to research alternatives to University policy. Even if this were the case, there is still a huge gap to be filled. Many more services could be provided by the Houses if House committees were coordinated and resources pooled.
And to whom does a student turn with gripes such as those mentioned above? Who now organizes college-wide activities? Who investigates the quality of medical services at UHS? Who investigates the Food Services and proposes alternative menus at comparable prices? Who looks into the allocation of student employment or questions budget priorities that allow $500 fee increases year after year? These areas are only given token consideration now. If for no other reason, we need a central student association as a coordinator and a breath of fresh air. If Harvard lacks student unity, it is not because we are so diverse--it is because no organization serves to draw us together.