A Long and Winding Road
A Cynic's View
AN OLD AND jaded Harvard professor strolled past the Cabot House renovations last week and remarked that education at Harvard is only an excuse for further construction.
If this is the case, then education must be taking a beating, because Harvard is slashing dramatically its long-planned renovations of the Radcliffe Quadrangle.
Residents of the Quad are grumbling about the unusual coincidence that funding for renovations ran out when and only when the River houses were finished. The issue has fueled longstanding Quad paranoia about shuttle bus schedules, house libraries and the lack thereof, interhouse eating--in sum, about the treatment of Quad residents as second-class Harvard citizens.
But it's not paranoia if they're right. And on the renovations issue, at least, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the upset Quad residents are right. Quad residents have been bypassed in the renovations process. When they are not ignored, they have been misled. Second-class treatment.
THE STORY BEGAN over a decade ago, when house renovations were first envisioned. The Quadrangle was slated for last--then-Dean of the College John B. Fox Jr. '59 explained to a North House audience last year--because more time was needed to raise the funds for the Quad, which needed more extensive renovation.
Bonds were floated, donations solicited. The dust settled and the Quadrangle came up short, at least $8 million worth according to University officials.
Students found out about this development only last year.
Also last year, students at North and Cabot Houses--Currier's cinder blocks have not yet had time to decay--asked to be included in the decision-making process. More specifically, they asked to be included on a University Hall committee chaired by Fox which was making recommendations to the deans.
Fox said okay, if the Cabot and North House masters approved, which they quickly did.
Fox then, the day before the students' first meeting, reversed field and refused to allow the students to attend. At that meeting, the committee's work was deemed complete and the committee was disbanded.
The students were shunted to separate North and Cabot advisory committees, but when these met last spring they were told that all the major decisions had already been set in stone. Some of these major decisions were extremely noxious to residents-for instance, the placing of Cabot House's dining hall on North House's edge of the Quad.
In effect, students were eliminated from all meaningful participation in a process that greatly affects their lives. Second-class treatment.
HAVING DECIDED that they are not going to fund the full Quadrangle renovations, as promised, College officials are once again toying with Quad residents.
This time students are being brought into the process. A mild-mannered and well-meaning administrator who deserves better than this degrading exercise in damage control has been sent to the Quadrangle to speak to residents, to find out which parts of the planned renovations they would value most, and to convince students not to expect too much.
Last year, when real decisions were being made about where to put dining halls and how to build suites, the College had no use for students. This year, when the sloppy detritus of unfulfilled promises is being swept under the proverbial rug, we're told that we students are important.
One can only conclude that this recent concern for student opinions is a shabby ploy to mollify potential outrage. But there is another, more honest way to mollify student outrage. Fund the whole renovations. Rather than set Cabot against North in competition for the remaining funds, University Hall could come up with the cash to meet its commitment.
UNIVERSITY administrators have a habit of pleading poverty, a reflexive response to every request. But this doesn't keep Harvard from coming up with money when it wants to. It's just a matter of priorities.
For instance, perennial student protest over the University's investments in companies doing business in South Africa led President Derek C. Bok to set aside $1 million this year for internships and related activities.
But do students have to risk expulsion and declare virtual war on Harvard to be given a high priority? The University drives students to adopt extreme tactics, which it then claims to abhor, by blocking all alternative routes. Rational arguments fall on deaf ears. Undergraduate Council studies take light-years to reach wishy-washy conclusions. Sporadic demonstrations may elicit a statement of support, but only self-destructive take-overs and the like really get high-priority status.
So what will it take for the Quadrangle to get its fair share of renovations? One week the students could commandeer a shuttle bus; the next week Hilles; and finally, during reading period, a coordinated attack on the Quadrangle kitchens. Amid the shattering plastic and shrieks of Quaddish fervor, two hisses of rustling paper will rise to a crescendo and drown out the actual event.
The one sound is the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, convening and shuffling its eyewitness testimony. The other is Harvard's bankers, counting out at last the dollar bills long ago promised for Quadrangle renovations.
The author is a member of the North House Renovations Committee.