Pryor Disbands IOP's Student Governing Body

Institute of Politics (IOP) Director Sen. David Pryor will unilaterally dissolve the IOP's 30-member student governing body, effective Dec. 1, Pryor announced to the surprise of SAC members at a breakfast meeting Thursday.

Though Pryor and the SAC have discussed the possibility of restructuring the committee since last spring, the decision came out of the blue, said SAC members.

Hannah Choi '01, SAC chair, has asked the Undergraduate Council to pass a resolution "in support of student self-determination at the Institute of Politics."

"The overwhelming majority [of students on SAC and senior associates] think that this move is rash, ill-conceived and unjustified," she said. "He should have consulted us."

Pryor said Thursday night that he was dissolving SAC because he felt the IOP has become stagnant, attracting only political junkies.

The move was necessary to create a system that encourages more undergraduates to participate, he said.

"We've had continuing discussions about SAC and the best way to achieve openness and to be inclusive, and I felt it was the best decision to just begin anew," Pryor said. "It will be a new day at the Institute of Politics."

According to Pryor, SAC has become too "vertical" and is not composed of a diverse group of individuals.

SAC members are chosen by an election of outgoing members of the committee. A planned election in December for next year's group has now been canceled.

Pryor also abolished the Community Action Committee and the Harvard Political Union, two of the IOP's eight student-chaired committees.

He will handpick the chairs of the remaining committees next semester. Future plans for committee election format have not yet been determined, Pryor said.

"We have wonderful students who comprise SAC, and they've given a lot of their time and effort," Pryor said. "But it's now time to broaden its base and encourage participation by a larger and more diverse group of students. I am not blaming this on any one student or students, it just happened this way over the years," Pryor said.

Pryor said he discussed the move with IOP staff members and non-SAC students, faculty, former IOP directors, former SAC members and members of the IOP's Senior Advisory Committee before taking action.

"There was a general consensus that it was time to make a change," he said.

But the decision was made unilaterally and came without warning for the students governing the IOP. SAC members said they were most disturbed that the decision was made without any consultation of members.

"I am surprised by this proposal because our programs have been very successful this year," said chair of the IOP's study groups committee Robert F. McCarthy '02. "The IOP has problems but none of them is so serious that it necessitates something so drastic."

Choi said the students involved with the IOP would have taken action to reform the structure themselves, if Pryor had given them notice of his intent, even "if he had come to us with an ultimatum."

"The dissolution of a decision made unilaterally by the director without any consultation of students, sends a clear message: meaningful student input is not welcome," Choi wrote in an e-mail sent out to the Undergraduate Council e-mail list.

But other IOP members said they support Pryor's plan.

Mattie J. Germer '03 said that if a student isn't on SAC, it is virtually impossible for them to effect change at the IOP. Germer applied to be on SAC but was rejected last spring,

"Being on SAC was a huge deal, and people spent their whole year doing everything they could to be elected," she said. "People wanted to do everything they could to get themselves in a good position, but because there was no real standard for who made SAC, it was a shot in the dark."

SAC member Erin B. Ashwell '02 applauds Pryor's motivations.

"There is a large group of students who really have been hurt by SAC policies," Ashwell said. "People who plan projects and try really hard are often turned down. Its very hard when something you work so hard on is out of your control."

Several Senior Associates and SAC members met this past weekend to begin planning ways to incorporate student involvement in the IOP, now that SAC will be eliminated.

Pryor will meet with SAC members again this Tuesday to discuss their reaction to his decision and begin to plan a reconstitution of the group.

"Because people care so much about the IOP, there have been many emotions involved in the changes, but at this point everyone realizes that we need to move forward and work on a vision for next semester," McCarthy said.

Travis F. Batty '02, whose senior associate position in the IOP had also been abolished, has drawn up a plan for a new structure. Most important to students, Batty said, is that the format maintains student input in the direction of the IOP.

Batty said students would work to insure that students--not just staff--maintain a role in the planning of IOP projects.

"Pryor's proposal...limits involvement to a more instrumental role under the central staff, like hanging posters," he said. "We want to contribute to the idea creation role, and ultimately, we want a coordinated relation with the staff and not a subordinated relation."

SAC Vice-Chair Richard Cooper '01 said he hoped the IOP would maintain its strengths even as it reforms its leadership.

"[The IOP] brings together undergraduates and practitioners, so that the undergrads learn more about politics and find inspiration for careers in public service," he wrote in an e-mail message. "The best way to do this is by focusing on the interests of the undergraduate, and I hope this focus remains clear."