E Puddingus Unum
JUST WHEN I thought University administrators were getting somewhere, breaking some of their elitist traditions, they blew it.
The administration was trying to make Harvard less discriminatory, more pluralist. In the past few years they markedly stepped up minority recruitment. They cut ties with the exclusive final clubs. They started tenuring women in increasing numbers.
When, however, things were moving in the right direction--slow as molasses but in the right direction--the University increased its ties to an organization which not only has no pretenses about being exclusive and elitist, but seems to be striving to become more so.
I'm talking about the Hasty Pudding Club.
The Pudding wasn't always that bad. Three years ago anyone who wanted to join could show up at a cocktail party, get a few signatures from any friendly face and be assured of acceptance. No one was turned away. The fees were not steep either, so almost anyone could afford to join the club.
Then the Pudding became more popular, as a fun place to drink and party on Thursday nights and occasional weekends. The club had to start a lottery for membership slots. Sounds fair, right? Of course, the officers' friends were more equal than others in the lottery, but anyone who lost out in the lottery their first time around was assured of a win the next semester.
EXIT SNOWBALL, enter Napoleon.
In the best of totalitarian traditions, the officers of the club recently decided to change some rules. The officers decided to eliminate the lottery and to change the selection process. Now, complain current members, the four officers alone choose all the new members.
According to one of the students who has decided not to renew his membership because of the new Pudding policies, "If the officers had done all the choosing freshman year, lots of the fun current members wouldn't have been selected, because they didn't dress snazzily or go to the right high school."
The selection process isn't the only elitist new club policy. The four officers also decided to offer free memberships to the presidents of all the final clubs. While the officers publicly claim they wish only to regain their tradition as a "waiting club" for those seeking admission to a final club, many members disagree. Says one, "The officers just want the final club set to hang around the Pudding. They want to turn the Pudding into a final club because they weren't punched by final clubs themselves."
THE IDEA OF four people sitting around and deciding who has proper social graces and who doesn't is repulsive, not to mention arbitrary and damaging to those who are rejected. Two years ago I didn't make the Pudding lottery, but it wasn't a big deal because I just figured I was unlucky. But people who are not accepted now are not just unlucky in the draw--they're judged "socially inept."
But the flaws of such exclusive social clubs run much deeper.
All college organizations, and indeed colleges themselves, offer their alumni a network of post-college connections which are valuable in job-hunting, business deals and other future endeavors. But most organizations base their membership on either interest or a measurable characteristic like athletic prowess.
Social clubs like the final clubs and now the Pudding, however, choose members based in a large part on family name, wealth and "who you know"--which, again, is integrally related to school and family backround. Unfortunately, the organizations that are the most unfair in their selection are the ones which offer their members the most in post-college connections and benefits. The former members of these clubs are usually wealthy, white, male corporate and political success stories. They can offer the best in high-paying jobs to seniors hunting for post-Harvard occupations.
And the elitist network is self-perpetuating. The children of the elite will go to the "right" schools, meet the "right" people and gain entrance into the "right" clubs.
Harvard broke its ties to the final clubs because they discriminated against women. But sexism is not the only objectionable basis of elitism.
If Harvard wants to continue in the direction of egalitarianism and fairness, it should break its ties with its new tenant. And if Pudding members want the club to continue to be a fun place free of the stigma of elitism, they should join the many members who have decided not to renew their memberships, as a protest against the new policies.