As states and cities around the country demand more local control of their administrative affairs, Harvard is also witnessing a bit of decentralization. This spring, instead of a central University-wide registration, the process will take place at each of the houses and the Freshman Union.
Of course, the impetus behind this change is not some radical demand by the house governments for more control over their constituents' lives. (Would that it were so.) The reality is more mundane: the usual site for registration, Memorial Hall, is still under construction. And other sites, such as Sever Hall (which was used for fall registration), will be holding classes.
Nonetheless, this change represents a small but significant improvement over practices in the past. Registration was never that bad, even if lines were a few dozen students long. But reasonable moves to solidify the small-college atmosphere of the houses should always be welcomed with appreciation by tough-skinned Harvardians.
There might be some obvious drawbacks to the change, however. Students who have outstanding payments on their term bill will have to venture off to the Term Bill Office at Holyoke Center to clear their account before returning to register. This means no more convenient "red dot lines" for delinquent would-be scholars. To make the process smoother, though, the Term Bill Office will be sending reminders to students who still owe money to the University. Consequently, the few people who will be inconvenienced by this change have only themselves to blame.
Also, due to the decentralized locations, there will be no student activity fair during registration--except at the Union. "It's only going to be for the freshmen," said Assistant to the Dean of Students Michelle Hewitt. This should not cause too much trouble, since upperclass students should already have a clue about their potential extracurricular activities.
And, finally, decentralization brings inevitable logistical difficulties, such as the need for more complex sorting of registration packets. There's the whole house order versus pure alphabetical order issue. We have confidence in our Harvard administrators to over-come this terrible obstacle. Hopefully they will succeed better than in their production of house face-books. (Students in Adams House, for example, have yet to receive their copies--and here we are talking about spring registration.)
Nonetheless, any potential bureaucratic incompetence should not forestall support for the implementation of a solid idea.
The success in house receipt of study cards this past fall is a clear indication that decentralization can and does make University-wide processes simpler and more efficient for the thousands who must endure their brief contact with bureaucracy. Besides, on February 1st, waiting time in line will certainly be shorter than in years past--if only by a few minutes.