Ryan A. Petersen leads the charge for reform.
Does history repeat itself? If you’re one of Harvard’s rabid calendar reform activists, the answer had better be a resounding
Does history repeat itself? If you’re one of Harvard’s rabid calendar reform activists, the answer had better be a resounding no.
The current push to amend the College’s schedule—aiming to start the fall term earlier and holding exams in December—is nothing new. “Calendar reform has been on the table at Harvard since the seventies,” said Undergraduate Council [UC] representative Benjamin P. Schwartz ’10.
Every time the reform movement has achieved prominence, it has been met with a curt dismissal from faculty or administration. This time around, activist leaders are hoping to learn from both the successes and the failures of the past.
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS
The first episode of activism was triggered in 1973 when oil prices skyrocketed and threatened to dramatically increase the cost of heating Harvard. Some at the College saw a chance to address issues of conservation and convenience concurrently. By moving winter finals to December, Harvard could close its dorms in January, saving on heating and finally giving its students a real break.
Changes in the calendar were approved twice by the Faculty Council, but were shot down both times after being passed on to the entirety of the faculty.
Ironically, the seminal catalyst for calendar reform, the cost of energy, has been reduced to inconsequence. The UC announced as part of its 26-page report on the issue that the total energy savings of calendar reform would amount to a measly $200,000.
This time around, advocates are focusing on students’ bottom lines instead of the College’s. Today’s UC has forged a coalition with the Woodbridge Society for International Students, since they face perhaps the most painful repercussions of the current calendar.
Recently imposed restrictions on H1B visas, the type foreigners need to hold a job that requires a Bachelor’s degree, have put pressure on Harvard’s international seniors. In order to enter the lottery for such a visa, seniors need documentation from University Hall asserting they hold or will soon hold their degrees.
“The current calendar vis-à-vis the H1B visa situation puts international Harvard students at a disadvantage for continuing studies in America or accepting job offers they’ve worked hard to obtain,” says Woodbridge Vice President Allegra M. Richards ’09, who is also comping FM.
FIGHTING TO BE HEARD
Faced with dual defeats, reform activists of the seventies made another attempt to revive the issue with a poll of the student body in 1976.
A student organization called the Educational Resource Group distributed questionnaires concerning calendar reform to approximately 250 students. The poll showed approximately 60 percent of students in favor of the reform, according to an April 1976 Crimson article entitled, “Students Upset With Calendar, Survey Shows.”
While the poll was ultimately ignored by university administrators, the tactic survived a long hiatus to reappear in today’s campaign in modernized, online form. The current calendar referendum showed that 84 percent of the 3,467 respondents were in favor of change.
UC President Ryan A. Petersen ’08 insists he won’t allow the administration to bully activists and keep them from bringing attention to the results of the referendum. After being denied the ability to share the proposal with the Faculty, Petersen decided to invoke the Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities—a measure passed in the early seventies to create dialogue between students, administrators, and faculty after the takeover of University Hall.
He recently filed a formal complaint with the University’s Commission of Inquiry. The tactic seems to have been successful, as Interim President Derek C. Bok agreed to a meet with Petersen today to discuss the issue.
“I think that undergraduates have collectively voiced a legitimate concern, and the university has a responsibility to address it,” says Petersen.
Although the results appear decisive, pessimism persists. “If every student voted yes on this, it wouldn’t change,” says UC Representative James W. Anderson ’09, who disagrees with the majority of his colleagues.
“It’s a pipe dream,” he continues. “It has to go through so many levels of faculty, of administration.” Anderson believes bureaucratic concerns will end up taking precedence over student opinion, bringing to mind the snub of the 1976 student poll.
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
If advocacy for calendar reform is louder and more widespread than before, it might be due to a largely unspoken hope among activists. Some see the University’s administrative situation as the activists’ greatest potential boon. Bok is scheduled to step down late this spring, and would therefore be able to implement dramatic changes to Harvard’s calendar without facing the University’s notoriously fickle Faculty.
Asked whether he thought Bok would have the time or inclination to make such a decision, Petersen expressed veiled optimism. “I think that everything on the timeline is running according to plan,” he says. “Bok has until June 1st until he officially steps down. If he and the Corporation are to make a decision, it will be in the next few weeks.”
Yet for all the tweaking of their tactics since the early seventies, calendar activists will have to face the same bureaucratic obstacles as their predecessors.
“The FAS is set in its schedule right now. I do think the calendar will change sometime in the next ten years,” says Schwartz.
The final weeks of this academic year are likely to escalate the clash between the proponents of change and the traditional bureaucracy. As President Bok’s exit date approaches and the activists’ prime opportunity comes to a close, it’s likely that the Harvard community will discover if this episode is just another rerun in the College’s history of calendar reform.