Summers Speaks at Council Kickoff
President polls support for Yale's first-year residential program
After an election plagued by multiple administrative and technological setbacks, the new council finally took their seats to hear Summers weigh in on a variety of topics, including the Core Curriculum, divestment, financial aid for disavowed gay students and the possibility of shifting to a Yale-style residential system.
Summers spoke for about 45 minutes before opening the floor to questions.
The bulk of the questions dealt with improving the College social scene.
"I've heard enough concern about the social life issues to think that it's a real concern," Summers said.
He added that most requests for improvements in social life seemed like requests for more opportunities for underage drinking.
"I don't share that objective," he said, drawing laughter from the council.
He also rejected suggestions that social life could be improved by eliminating randomization of the Houses.
"We have no plan...to review randomization, and there's a danger for the grass to be greener elsewhere," Summers said, referring to students who believed that pre-randomization Harvard had a far better social scene.
"An area in which Harvard stands out, in a positive way, is the House system," he said.
He asked council members for feedback about the possibility of adopt ing Yale's residential system, in which incoming first-year students would be assigned a Yard dorm for their first year, but all the students in a particular dorm would move on to the same House for their final three years.
He repeatedly mentioned Springfest and It's Movie Time at Harvard-the president-sponsored public showing of Ferris Bueller's Day Off two weeks ago-as evidence of his commitment to improving Harvard social life.
He was asked if financial aid would be made available to students who have been disavowed by their parents, especially in cases where the rift occurs after the student announces his or her homosexuality.
"They've assured me that such a policy is in effect," he said. "I think it's very important to the viability of our financial aid program that we take it case-by-case."
He also emphasized a push to recruit a younger and more diverse group of faculty members.
"I would hope that a decade from now, the Faculty would look more like the world than it does today," he said.
In reply to another question, Summers said academic credit would not be given for public service.
"We reserve academic credit for activities that represent intellectual learning achievements," he said
He also said he hopes to bring the Medical School, School of Public Health and Faculty of Arts and Sciences to a "much higher level of integration" in order to focus the University's work in the field of life sciences.
In addition, he showed support for expanding the financial aid programs at the University's graduate schools.
"I'm proud that we have the principle of need-blind financial aid, but I think that it's an aspiration we have throughout the University, not just in the College," he said.
Summers also reiterated his opposition to divestment from Israel.
"To boldly single out Israel...would be an extraordinarily problematic action for the University," he said. "It is important for the University not to be instrumental to singling out a nation."
While Summer said it was important for the University to take a stand on "certain issues of values," he cautioned against becoming too involved in political issues.
"The University itself is not a political actor. It is a community," he said.
Summers then fielded questions from the council.
Rohit Chopra '04 said he thought that Summers could have been more detailed in his statements.
"I hope in future times, he'll be able to articulate what role he will play" in various campus issues, Chopra said.
Council member Rory S. Donald '04 expressed support for Summers' remarks.
"I really respected what he said," Donald said.
After Summers' remarks, council President Sujean S. Lee '03 seated the council and delivered a welcoming speech.
"I promise you that after surviving elections this past week, things will only get better," she said.
Council members concluded their meeting by electing Deborah Hsieh '06 as secretary and re-electing Eric J. Powell '03 as treasurer.
-Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at email@example.com.