$60,000 for What?

At Last, A Unified Student Voice

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?

Present Funding

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.