Next week students will have the opportunity to vote on the future of student governance at Harvard. There will be two referenda, one on the Dowling proposal and another on the issue of student-policy making authority--both were initiated by the Student Assembly. Faculty legislation implementing the Dowling proposal will be prepared shortly.
The result of the referendum on the Dowling proposal should be decisive in determining whether or not the Faculty and administration decide to implement the proposal. If it is approved, students will later vote on whether to ratify the constitution of the new Student Council. There will be a forum to discuss the Dowling proposal Sunday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. in Science Center A.
New shower heads were installed throughout the college. Were you consulted? Granted, this is a small issue, but it reflects a fundamental problem in the current relationship between Harvard undergraduates and the administration. Tuition is spiraling upward and services are being cut back, yet students have little to say in any matter--be it calendar reforms, investment policy, or library hours. Moreover, students as individuals do not have or the power to guard their interests. Therefore, at this time, we need an effective student government, funded and centralized, to act as our advocate, rather than the present fragmented and penniless system.
The problems with the existing governance system are so extensive that the administration and the Student Assembly agreed in February 1980 to establish a student-faculty committee, chaired by Biology professor John E. Dowling, to review college governance. After a nine-month investigation, the Dowling Committee called for the formation of a centralized Student Council funded by a $10 term bill surcharge. The Committee's proposal is a significant improvement upon the present system of governance and deserves the support of students in next week's referendum.
Why Does't it Work?
Among the problems cited by the Dowling Committee are duplication of effort, fragmentation, lack of continuity, and lack of accountability.
For example, four separate groups (ERG/CUE the Academics committees of both the assembly and RUS, the Educational Policy subcommitte of CHUL) are all charged with investigating academic policies. Such an overlap is not only wasteful, but also potentially divisive because the different groups invariably reach different conclusions on the same issue.
While student energy is wasted because of duplicated efforts on some issues, other issues of vital interest and impact are deliberately overlooked by the administration. An alternative meal plan, a convenient option provided by most other colleges, has been repeatedly proposed by students, yet never has been seriously considered by those with the power to implement it.
Coordinated and coherent action is all but impossible because of the large number of governance groups on which students currently serve. There is no means for one generation of students to pass on information and experience to its successors, so students often repeat work done in previous years.
Under the present system, most students serving on the student-faculty committees must work without organized student support or guidance. As a result, they often find it difficult to effectively oppose administration initiatives which are not in the best interests of the student body. For example, $40,000 was spent on kiosks (which cost less than $100 each elsewhere), while vital shuttle bus service, heating, and custodial services are cut back.
Communication between the student body and the relatively few students on the student-faculty committees is tenuous at best. When was the last time you knew what was on CHUL's agenda? Have you ever heard of the Standing Committee on Advising and Counseling? Do you even know the name of the single student who represents all 6400 undergraduates on the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility?
Perhaps the chief fault of the present structure is its system of funding. This system has left worthy but financially troubled organizations without a reliable means of receiving financial assistance, has allowed the administration to exercise control over which issues are seriously considered in student-faculty committees, and has prevented the Student Assembly from fulfilling its potential to be an effective student government.
Many students have complained about the ineffectiveness of the Student Assembly and have demanded that it do more. But little can be accomplished without money, and the Assembly has never had a reliable source of funds. It has had to spend valuable time and effort on fundraising or beg the administration or the House committees for money--neither of which is an appropriate function of an effective student government.
This semester, an Assembly-prepared handbook on student rights languishes for lack of funds to print it, and a planned University-wide concert was cancelled, because there is no money to back it. Even a proposed conference of undergraduate organizations to exchange ideas on fundraising, publicity and dealing with the administration had to be scrapped.
The Dowling Proposal
The new Student Council will be made up of 85 representative--five elected from each House or Yard area. These students will serve on five different committees of the council, three of which will elect from among their members the student representatives to three student-faculty committees dealing with academics, housing, and student life.
The Council will be responsible for the selection of students to the eight Standing Committees, thus acting as an intermediary stituency. The representatives will be required to report frequently to the Council.
This proposal is explicitly designed to solve the problems that exist in the present system.
Duplication of effort is eliminated under the new system by having a single Council with one set of five committees. Close coordination of efforts would be ensured by the existence of a single executive committee.
Student representatives to the student-faculty committees would have the support and guidance of their Council committee as well as the backing of the entire Council.
The Council will foster close communications with its student body constituency through newsletters, forums, polls and referenda which funding would make possibe. All meetings of the Council and its committees will be open, and this accessibility is important in guaranteeing responsiseness and accountability.
The Dowling report recommends a $10 surcharge on all student term bills, of which $6.50 would be optional--a negative check-off. The remaining $3.50 would be non-refundable since, according to the Dowling Report, "all undergraduates would benefit from some aspects of the proposed student government." The Student Council could receive as nuch as $60,000 to be allocated as follow:
A) $5,000 for campus-wide activities and social events, such as concerts.
B) $20,000 (the non-refundable $3.50) would provide the operating bedget for the Student Council. The money would support polls, discussion forums and referenda to gauge student opinion, and a newsletter to inform students on issues and the voting records of their representatives. The proposal also suggests a half-time staff assistant, office supplies and telephones--CHUL. CUE and the Faculty Council have found these indispensable.
C) $35,000 (from the optional $6.50) would be distributed to undergraduate organizations on the basis of need. Ninety-five per cent of Harvard-Radcliffe students belong to such groups. The money would not replace the present funding efforts of these organizations, but will especially assist groups that are new and without alumni support--worthy organizations that would otherwise exist only marginally.
Some may argue that such a proposal is unworkable. But Harvard is the exception among the nation's colleges in its lack of a centrally-funded student government. Brown, U. Penn., U. Mass., and Stanford, for example, have student-controlled funds varying from $128,000 to $1.6 million. It works elsewhere; it can work here.
We cannot afford to be complacent with the current fragmented, over-lapping, and fundamentally powerless student government. A no vote would retain this faulty structure. We cannot merely reshuffle student governance at Harvard, but must reinforce the responsiveness, accountability, and centralization of the Student Council created by the Dowling proposal with funding and policy-making power. Vote yeas on both the Dowling proposal and the student policy-making question for a real change--a change for the better.
The writers are past and present members of the Student Assembly, CHUL. ERG. RUS and the Freshman Council.
Students should be entrusted with certain policy making authority. The extent of this authority should be greater in some areas, such as student life, than in others, such as academics.
To vote no on this question is to vote for paternalism; against the principle that all members of an enlightened university community should be involved in decisions which directly affect that community. To vote no is to forget that you are paying over $10,000 a year. Yet your opinions are, for the most part, ignored.
Send a clear message to the faculty and administration: It is time for a re-evaluation of a policy-making process that underutilizes the capabilities of the Harvard student body. A yes vote on this question is the foundation upon which an effective student government will be built.
Students should vote against question two which would express support for greater student power in college decisions. First of all, students do not necessarily know what is best for them. They can see issues such as tenure, calendar reform, housing, and college life problems in light of their own immediate needs, but seldom in light of the needs of the college and university as a whole. The expertise needed to make most of these decisions comes with experience and education. Harvard administrators and faculty are best qualified to make these decisions, particularly those in the academic realm. They were chosen for their expertise in their respective areas, and have a long association with the University which enables them to put changing student suggestions in better perspective.
Pro statement prepared by Ross Boylan '81-3; con statement prepared by Howard Pomeranz '82.