Students Assume Unusual Positions
Classes of Class Presidents Leave Government for New Endeavors
The final chapter in the saga of the now-extinct Student Assembly was perhaps the most pathetic in a four-year series of sorry episodes. In its last semester, the 96-seat council could only find 55 interested participants. And last May, When the forlorn student government-which this year will be replaced by a funded and centralized one-was to meet for the purpose of disbanding officially the meeting did not even draw a quorum. The assembly had to be buried by telephone; the more dedicated representatives called the absentees to approve its extermination.
About the same time this sorry show was going on within the Ivy walls, members of the incoming. Class of '86 were completing and returning their first batch of forms high schools around the globe. One statistic from a question asking students which extra-curriculars they expect to tackle this fall seems ironic: 417-or 25 percent--of the roughly 1620 accepting freshman said they expected student government to be either their first or second extra-curricular activity. Surprisingly, however, this figure is consistent with previous years.
This is perhaps the most tangible evidence of a Harvard phenomenon which began long before any current undergraduate can remember and which some say dates back to the creation of the House system in the late 1920s. Most student administrators and faculty members agree with Dean of the College John B. Fox '59 who calls student involvement at Harvard "stunning." Yet participation in students government has been abysmal. Put simply, Harvard classes of class presidents and other high school stand outs traditionally veer away from the government roles they played in high school and often expect to play again.
No one is absolutely sure why Harvard, with its undergraduates sporting such snazzy credentials has such an anemic student government track record. And there is a fairly strong possibility that interest will rise to some degree this year when elections are held in October for the Undergraduate Council. Harvard's fourth student government in 12 years but the first funded structure ever.
But students and College officials theorize that the principal reasons for student government's foibles are inherent and may not change abruptly. Another reason why packed council meetings and heated contests for seats might not be immediately on the horizon is the dazzling success of other extracurricular organizations on campus and the healthy leadership being asserted in the activities.
Ironically, the most interesting yet plausible explanation for Harvard's relatively dry wells for student government may well be the high school leadership records of students entering Harvard. Initially, this would seem to suggest high participation, but Fox says. "When you have a class with as many ex-student government leaders as these do, you don't often have a lot of followers. On a 90-member council, it's very hard for a single individual to feel he has an impact."
Alan A. Khazei '83 agrees and his own switch from involvement in student government during freshman year to a commitment to Currier house committee, of which he is now chairman, is typical of the kind of involvement which more students apparently find satisfying. Some, in fact, point to the network of House committees as the de facto student government here, making the decisions which directly affect undergraduate life in small but noticeable ways. Because they perform community service and other specific assignments, "the meaningful committees are in the Houses," says John R. Marquand, assistant dean of the College.
"I've always pursued activities where I can have the most effect on my immediate environment and make changes and improvement."