Protests are Politics Too

The IOP should not adopt an unnecessary policy restricting funding for study group trips

Since four Harvard seniors were arrested at a protest against the Fair Trade Agreement of the Americas in Miami two weeks ago, the Institute of Politics’ funding policies for study group trips have faced internal and media scrutiny. The stated purpose of the trip in question was to observe the protest and collect data, but the fact that members of the group participated in the demonstration itself—leading to the arrest of four students—should not inhibit funding of similar trips in the future.

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.

DISSENT: A Misadventure and Its Lesson

What Institute of Politics (IOP) fellow Tom Hayden cast as an academic sojourn to study protester culture in a memorandum to IOP Director Daniel R. Glickman was not what it seemed to be. Rather, the arrest of several of the student researchers for disobeying a police officer and criminal mischief at least casts doubt on whether they were merely distributing surveys to protesters—as Hayden had said was their mission—or protesting (and possibly committing illegal activities) themselves. Tellingly, Hayden has since indicated that the students may have engaged in the protest—something for which Glickman has said he would not have approved funding.

Beyond the dubious nature of this specific trip, which cost the IOP an estimated $2,400, the situation demonstrates the necessity of a formal policy that clearly defines what kind of research and activism should be funded by the IOP.

This policy should include planks that address whether funding for protests is ever appropriate and should contain general regulations (as Undergraduate Council project grants do) that require some form of product or summary to be issued. Although flexibility should undoubtedly exist, as the Staff suggests, a codified policy would have helped make clear to the IOP administration the nature of Hayden’s trip and would have subjected it to the further scrutiny it required.

—Travis R. Kavulla ’06, Jasmine J. Mahmoud ’04

and Stephen W. Stromberg ’05