As Institute of Politics (IOP) Director Daniel R. Glickman noted, “It can change people’s lives to be able to see the interface between people and politics...Politics doesn’t happen exclusively in Cambridge, Mass.” But the interface between people and politics is not limited to internships at a political convention or an afternoon with a federal judge; paying for student groups to attend protests, even as participants, is a legitimate and important use of the IOP’s resources. Protest participation can provide an educational experience impossible to replicate the classroom or even as an impartial observer of the same protest. The arrest of the students is not a signal that the IOP needs to be more restrictive with its funding; rather, the IOP is doing exactly what it should, providing opportunities for first-hand learning that students might not have otherwise.
Though the IOP is, and should continue to be, a non-partisan organization, non-partisan does not mean non-participatory. By supporting study and activism on all sides, the IOP can help to enrich the experiences of its students as well as political discourse on and off campus. In addition to promoting purely academic study, such a policy encourages students to actively participate in politics and to become invested in issues that affect the world outside Harvard. If a new funding policy excluded activities such as protests, the IOP would miss an opportunity to let Harvard students do more than just learn about politics on an abstract level. Encouraging collective action is one of many valuable ways to combat the apathy that is common not only among students here and at other colleges, but among a whole generation of American youth.
One of the best aspects of the IOP is that, with its large endowment and top-notch faculty, it can provide adequate resources for projects without a rigid, complicated or restrictive policy. The IOP can afford to cover the costs of trips like the one to Miami, and with seasoned politicians leading groups of motivated students, it can be confident that these trips will have substantial educational value.
The benefit gained from study group trips is not accessible only to a small group of carefully selected undergraduates. On Tuesday, the Miami study group, led by IOP fellow Tom Hayden, gave a presentation at the IOP sharing its experiences with all interested parties. Like the study groups themselves—which are open to all Harvard students, students at other colleges and local residents—presentations such as this one benefit the entire Harvard community.
Though it is difficult to draw the line between trips that the IOP should fund and ones that it should not, this ambiguity is far outweighed by the educational value of the trips, and the institute should trust its faculty and students to make that decision and rely on the oversight that is already in place.
One of the greatest benefits of being a Harvard student is the vast resources and opportunities that the school has to offer. The IOP should provide students with as wide a range of opportunities as possible and not adopt any new restrictions for the funding of study group trips.