One Vote Against Democracy
IF ONLY Tocqueville could have been there. The 19th century French theorist who warned against excessive democracy would have marveled at the spectacle of consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader leading some 200 Harvard students in a rally for more openness and inclusion in the University's presidential selection process.
America's love affair with democracy, which Tocqueville so brilliantly critiqued years ago, is still alive in its very birthplace. Just a block from where General Washington once marshaled colonial forces against King George III, General Nader was assembling a predictable cadre of student activists in revolt against the tyrannical rule of President Bok. Tories, beware.
At the rally earlier this month, Nader urged fellow revolutionaries to "break that vise of authoritarian control over the University." And while chastising the University's seven-member governing Corporation, rabble-rouser Tony McLean wondered, "How the hell can a so-called democratic institution like Harvard University consider the voices of 18,000 less important than that of seven?"
The answer is obvious. Harvard is not, nor has it ever claimed to be, a democracy. To question the consistency of Harvard's democratic ideals is tantamount to criticizing the military for its poor commitment to pacificism. How can we reproach the University for not adhering to principles that it never endorsed?
But what about the principles of Nader & Co.? Do they espouse democracy or just the imposition of their narrow agenda on the University? Using deceptive rhetoric about "openness" and "inclusion," speakers at Nader's rally seemed less like idealistic champions of educational democracy than partisan advocates of particular causes.
Make no mistake about it. "Student inclusion" are code words for student activism.
DEMOCRATIZERS at Harvard believe that governing bodies not elected by or composed of students are inherently unresponsive to their concerns. Therefore, the University should allow students to help select its leadership. Student participation in University governance, they argue, is not only just but also useful.
But it's hard to imagine how anyone within earshot of Harvard Yard has not already heard the protests, seen the fliers, or read the campus media's constant examination of student concerns.
And even if members of the search committee are deaf and blind to student opinions, their upcoming meeting with student representatives on November 18, as well as the letters they requested from students, should familiarize them with our interests.
Furthermore, what "democracy" advocates consider to be the University's current indifference to student interests is, in many cases, nothing more than a reasonable unwillingness to meet the sometimes unreasonable demands of campus activists over delicate issues like South African divestment and minority faculty recruitment.
Take the explosive controversy over Harvard's Afro-American Studies department, which, because of faculty departures, has been left with only one tenured professor. During a meeting with students in October (that Bok arranged), the administration rejected the unrealistic demands of Afro-Am concentrators that the University appoint six faculty by February.
Activists responded by staging a sit-in in Bok's office and later interrupting a Kennedy School forum at which he was speaking. (Remember, these are the same people clamoring for a more thoughtful democratic selection process).
The anger of Afro-Am concentrators is certainly understandable, and would have been justified had the administration been dragging its feet on serious reform. But just last year, it tried to lure three prominent Afro-Am scholars to Harvard with lucrative salary offers. When those offers were turned down, it authorized seven departments to conduct joint searches for potential Afro-Am faculty.
This is hardly the stuff of "unresponsive" and "authoritarian" regimes.
But nonetheless, student activists continue to berate President Bok. McLean asked the Nader crowd if "we want a president who thinks he is simply doing charity work to listen to student concerns?" Daniel Tabak, a member of the Undergraduate Council, joined in with his derisive comparison of Bok with Mr. Rogers, "another elderly white man who treats the people he's working with like children."
Would Tabak or McLean say the same about other University administrators more directly responsible for undergraduate life? Would they deem "unresponsive" and "authoritarian" Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett's meetings with women over Harvard's date rape policy? Apparently so. When Nader lambasted Harvard's "faceless bureaucrats," his audience pointed with scorn to Dean of Students Archie Epps who was watching the rally from a window in University Hall.
THE antics of Afro-Am demonstrators also raise doubts about the intentions of would-be student participants in the presidential search. Just whose "concerns" would student selectors raise during the process? No doubt, they would be pressured to evaluate candidates according to a political litmus test cooked up by campus activists.
Don't be fooled by the deceptively populist appeal of Nader's rally. Idealistic calls for openness and inclusion were drowned out by a smorgasbord of polemical speeches straight from the latest Politically Correct Platform.
This agenda of this month's meeting between representatives of the council and the search committee could also be dominated by student activists. Athan Tolis, a member of the delegation, told the Independent, "We certainly have every major group that complains about anything on campus represented." But what about the remainder--perhaps the majority--of students who aren't complainers, ideologues, or activists? Will they be represented?
Issue like the future of Afro-Am and minority recruitment certainly merit attention, but they should not determine the selection of Harvard's next president. The University needs a leader who will direct the course of undergraduate education and successfully spearhead its record-breaking fundraising drive.
In light of these tasks, the Corporation's stated preferences for a "recognized scholar" with a "keen sense of management" are more important than the limited, and by comparison, trivial objectives of student political activists.
Some, like The Crimson in its editorials, have suggested that students have "veto power" over the search committee's presidential picks. I can already see the headlines: "Activists Reject Fourth Presidential Nominee: University Scrambles to Meet Demands." If you want a recipe for rancor and deadlock, follow The Crimson's advice.
Or join ranks with York Eggleston. The co-chair of the Harvard Foundation's student advisory committee told his supporters, "We must be willing to shout and rally and protest even when our throats are sore."
Notwithstanding the benefits he may bring to the cough drop industry, Eggleston is a walking argument against student participation in the search. The selection of Harvard's next president requires calm deliberation, not petulant diatribes.
Students will be students. Passionate and idealistic, we will brave rain and snow to protest the latest administrative injustice. We will stamp our feet for a women's center and raise our fists for South African divestment. And so we should. Harvard just wouldn't be Harvard without us.
But without administrators, Harvard wouldn't be anything. Capable of reconciling the immediate concerns of a diverse community with the institutional interests of the University, detached and objective leaders are better able to chart Harvard's long-term future than students whose tenure here is transitory.
Perhaps my trust in "faceless bureaucrats" will never win me a seat on the council, or worse yet, a dinner with Ralph Nader. If so, these are the bitter pills I must swallow for a tempered resistance to misapplied democracy. No doubt, Tocqueville would have agreed.