FEW of the things students clamor for are ever acted upon by the University administration. Finally, Harvard may be addressing an issue with broad-based support among students--the need for a campus student center.
Harvard has contracted a top architect to explore the possibility of constructing a student center in Memorial Hall for the purpose of housing a freshman dining hall and student groups. The administration still must formalize the plans and solicit funding for the project. If Harvard is planning a bona fide student center, the University deserves accolades. But if the administration only intends to replace the Freshman Union--a mess hall, with underutilized and meager social facilities--that would be a distortion of what undergraduates want from a student center.
At universities around the country, student centers provide a focal point for the undergraduate community--packed with bookstores, drugstores and restaurants and crawling with students from all classes and background, day and night.
Student centers are the crossroads for both faculty and students--where both groups stop at cafes to eat and talk, post notes on a common bulletin board and hold talks in side rooms. At Harvard all of this interaction is supposed to be happening at the Houses, but in reality, little of it does.
Here a decentralized campus life does more to segregate students than bring them together, as students gravitate toward the houses and their stereotypes and stick within the boundaries of their extracurricular peer group. Only in freshman year's randomly-assigned dormitories is Harvard's noted diversity truly reflected. Far from detracting from the house system, as critics fear, a student center would enhance campus life.
ALTHOUGH a student center cannot be the sole panacea for the College's problems, it is a huge step in the right direction. Situated near the center of classroom, office and Yard activity, Memorial Hall is bound to draw in most students and faculty--as long as it provides the right mix of services.
Harvard should consider services such as xeroxing and book-selling reserve reading check-out and faculty talks, a 24-hour snack bar and a pub with a band, so the center could serve a variety of academic and social needs. If it were filled with performing groups and used for parties and receptions, the center could even revitalize the campus' moribund social life.
As the student center proposal courses its way through the administration student input must be solicited at every step along the way. The Undergraduate Council must be involved. But so must the student body in general--to ensure that the center meets their needs and attracts all types of students.
Students, in turn, must voice their support for this proposal and let the administration know how important a center would be. This is one issue where student activism and a strong undergraduate voice could bring about results.