After fiery argumentation and passionate debate, the Undergraduate Council (UC) leadership decided to compose “A Declaration of Grievances” against the University administration. Like similar documents of such monumental importance, their pamphlet kicks off by denouncing the lack of representation in governing bodies, censures the authorities’ disrespect toward “basic liberties,” and cries foul regarding the lack of (student) involvement in the purchase of land in the south. Worthy heirs to Jefferson indeed.
The UC feels that the administrative metropolis of University Hall does not listen to the student constituency enough. Undergraduates sit on over half a dozen committees, but administrators always have the final say on their recommendations. Furthermore, even in student-related contracts—like the deal with Collegeboxes for summer storage—students are hardly ever consulted. The pamphleteers clearly dislike this: The UC wants to sit at the Commons, and have representation.
There are, however, two problems with the UC’s rhetoric of revolution. Firstly, it is not sufficient to denounce tyranny, make demands that you deem reasonable, and wait for the inevitable negative. Every successful revolutionary needs an ideological justification for action.
If it wants to be heard and respected, the UC must explain why mere undergraduates should be involved at the highest echelons of decision-making. I, for one, am not convinced we have either the experience or the objectivity to have a vote on any issues, trivial or crucial. From consultation on summer storage to picking the next University president, the UC has thus far failed to show that they are not themselves an unsuccessful bureaucracy merely lobbying for an elusive raison d’être.
And that leads me to the second problem: The student body couldn’t care less about the UC.
Despite producing an important-sounding document, our student government has failed to show us that it is an effective body for student advocacy. We thus remain apathetic regarding its dealings, elections, and even its self-styled “Declaration of Grievances.” Dozens of eager freshmen declare their candidacy for the UC each fall. By the time those innocent freshmen become realist sophomores, however, student government at Harvard has lost its sheen; some upperclass Houses can’t find a soul to stand for election.
Despair not: Bouncy castles are known to make people care.
There is an organization on campus supported by the Office of Student Activities and funded by the administration, whose mission, according to its Web site, is planning “inclusive, large events that foster a sense of Harvard College community.” Who better than the College Events Board (CEB) to organize the revolution that will finally allow the UC to justify its own existence?
After spinning off from the UC, the CEB has been quite successful at bringing the campus together through events like Yardfest and the Pep-Rally. They even brought us obsessive-compulsive Risk.
Need inspiration? Look no further than 1969. When students took over University Hall that year to protest the Vietnam War, they were motivated by the May ’68 unrest in France, where university students took over Parisian streets. Though clubbed by the police, Harvard’s revolutionaries held on; professors aided them with food; fellow undergraduates boycotted classes in support. Eventually, the single cry of a united campus, brought together under a political message, won.
But considering the cause today is the UC, our modern times require something of a different flavor. Inspired by other CEB events, all we need is a little catering, a bouncy castle, and lots of freebies. Only then might the UC’s bureaucracy have its long-awaited revolution and find the gravitas it desperately seeks. And we can all have some fun.
So let’s take over University Hall. Again. May we have May ’68! What a great punch line for a free t-shirt.
Pierpaolo Barbieri ’09, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a history concentrator in Eliot House.