No Bok Payments
BEATEN by a piece of mail. In its act of sending fake draft notices to 500 undergraduate males, the Committee On Central America did more for political awareness in one week than I've done in three-and-a-half years as a cartoonist.
It is an unsettling realization for me, since I plan to pursue the career in political cartooning and general social satire that I nurtured at Harvard. As my career at The Crimson fades into the past tense, I recognize that I have chosen a medium that is restricted to those who already care about the issues. And to those who read. And these segments of the population are endangered species.
Certainly no one can make a living at mailing draft notices. Political cartooning, though it is woefully two-diminsional, is as close as I can come to daily satire and still afford my peanut butter addiction. I believe in the power of a striking visual image. I believe in the power of satire to make people think twice. But I also believe editorial cartooning requires people to have at least thought about something once before I get to them.
I began my journalism career as a reporter, not as a cartoonist. But when I arrived at The Crimson in 1985, no one was using a visual medium to critique Harvard issues, and I stepped in. I am proud of some of the 343 cartoons I have drawn; I am more proud that I kept addressing the issues on a daily basis.
The cartoons appeared continuously on page two of the Crimson, which was my vehicle and my anchor. I could not reach anyone who did not read The Crimson. So my role became one of an inner-circle commentator--a jester for those already at court.
Imagine the jester's surprise when he discovered the king had never heard one word. President Derek Bok told a friend of mine this autumn that he never reads The Crimson and that he doesn't know anything about "Boyd's Eye View." I wasn't looking for celebrity endorsement of my work, but when I heard he laughed at the daily student newspaper as a headache-causing agent, I got angry.
WE IN the student media often complain that Bok, our leader, won't talk to us on a regular, forthright basis. I protest the reverse, that he won't listen to undergraduates as an intelligent, adult community on a regular basis. It is Bok's duty as president to maintain a minimum awareness of students' opinions and ideas. He could do it through many mediums, from attending house meetings to reading The Crimson, the Salient, the Independent or other publications.
Instead, Bok participates in sporadic meetings and cute publicity-generating events, such as the tea party in the freshman dormroom that he attended last week. Bok's isolated efforts to receive student input are inadequate. He was willing to collect a college-wide survey on general issues in 1988, but unwilling to discuss current issues with the students when the decision-making process is in action.
After observing Bok for four years, I see him as a symbol of the narrow-minded bureaucracy that pervades Harvard. His public persona is a smokescreen, given to dazzling us with occasional appearances on a one-to-one level but eschewing any systematic contact with undergraduates.
That's not his job, some say. He is president of all of Harvard University, not just the undergraduates, the argument goes. I'll go a step further: Bok is president of the Harvard alumni. He is a cocktail man, giving public appearances toward the ultimate goal of raising private funds. He is all too ready to recognize us after we graduate from the college. He will listen to us when we have money, not when we are undergraduates on financial aid. I personally no longer feel that Bok is my president.
THE problem certainly extends beyond the individual persona we take as Derek Bok. Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett pays attention to students because that is his specific task, but too many other departments of the Harvard entity do not. Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence ignores students, though the tenure crisis he has overseen affects us students most directly.
I reject the compartmentalization that goes on in the Harvard administration and faculty because it serves as a shell game to deny students a say in all the areas that concern us. At many other colleges in the nation, from Louisiana State University to the University of Minnesota, students have been accepted onto search committees for deans and faculty. At Harvard, we are denied any say in the tenure process. We mature tremendously from our first year to our last, but unfortunately the administration chooses to treat us as first-year students until we graduate.
This is not a plea for Harvard to babysit us. It is a plea that the administrators recognize us as adults capable of improving the community in which we live. Commencement speakers say we will leave Harvard to change the world. I wanted to change Harvard first, because for four years it was my world, and because it needed changing.
In reviewing all my cartoons recently, I noticed how little things have changed. I added my voice to those that asked Spence to allow students a role in tenure reform long ago, in 1986, but we students are still left on the sidelines to watch the Harvard faculty deteriorate. Harvard would rather have us keep busy reforming our clubs and extra-curricular organizations. And have us give generously when we reminisce.
I will look back fondly on my Harvard life, but only in spite of many things. Harvard promises much in admitting us, gives us little during four years, and then asks for much after we have graduated. Don't bother asking me for money, Derek. You didn't listen to me. I refuse to listen to you.