I never wake up in time for breakfast. Every morning, I set my alarm for 9:30 a.m., yet I still sleep right through Currier dining hall’s breakfast hours. Despite my own inability to appreciate the first meal of the day, as the Undergraduate Council president, my past six months have been defined by discussions of hot breakfast. When I ran for the position one year ago, I never thought that over half my time on the council would be spent talking about one meal of the day. Since last May, students have been asking me to fight for the return of their scrambled eggs, and the UC has spent a semester discussing a strategy for bringing the bacon back.
In the midst of Harvard’s budget crisis, it seems almost humorous that hot breakfast has gained such prominence on campus. We are in the middle of a national recession, and yet the majority of complaints given to the UC in the past six months have been about the inadequacies of cold cuts and hard-boiled eggs. I have attended countless meetings with administrators discussing student dissatisfaction on this issue, but each conversation comes back to the question of why students care so much. What I finally realized is that hot breakfast symbolizes much more than food. The frustration is indicative of a greater misunderstanding about the budget-cut process—and a greater distrust about what steps have been taken since hot breakfast was removed.
There is no question that students understand that budget cuts are happening, but the last thing we all remember was the day we received an unexpected e-mail announcing the reduction of services in the Quad Library, late-night shuttles, and HUDS breakfast services. In the aftermath of that announcement, there were countless discussions on e-mail lists complaining about the changes. But the overarching theme of each discussion was that students wanted greater transparency and inclusion in the budget cut process and that, for the next round of cuts, something needed to change.
The administration heard the message and brainstormed ways to effectively incorporate student concerns starting in May. When the UC asked Dean Hammonds to create a feedback system modeled off an online Idea Bank at MIT, she immediately found a way to develop a similar site for Harvard. The Idea Bank was created to guide the community discussion on the next round of budget reductions. The website launched in September and allowed all members of the Harvard community to include ideas on how to make Harvard more efficient. Not only could people submit recommendations, but they could also rate the quality of other ideas. So far, submitted ideas have included recommendations such as cutting the salaries of top administrators to downsizing the number of campus events. Some have even suggested the removal of the UC—I gave that idea one star.
The Idea Bank is an important step in the budget-cut process and one that should be further utilized. Dean Smith and Dean Hammonds responded to student complaints and created an online forum that is meant to guide and influence the recommendations of the working groups on Student Life and Education. Eight students serve on these committees, and as one of those representatives, I can testify how seriously the Idea Bank is taken every week in our discussions.
But this outlet is only as effective as students make it. In the past month, submissions have dropped, and we have found ourselves once again without concrete community input in the budget process. Students have asked for transparency and inclusion in the budget-cut process, but even when Dean Hammonds and the working groups ask for input, students have not participated.
This is not to say that students are at fault, for the working groups must also take seriously student concerns that their deliberative process is not transparent. But as students ask for more involvement in the College’s decision-making process, it is hard to argue for greater student input when students do not use the communication avenues already available to them.
As the semester ends, we still have $110 million of budget cuts to make, and hot breakfast is less than one percent of that figure. To bring back hot breakfast, something else will have to go, and students need to ask themselves what they are willing to sacrifice. If any member of the Harvard community is concerned about hot breakfast, House life, or college life in general, then the Idea Bank is the most effective way to have your voice heard.
Admittedly, there are still a number of ways that student input should be increased in College governance, and we have to take advantage to participate when the opportunities are there—such as the Idea Bank and working groups. Let’s stop focusing on scrambled eggs unless we are prepared to sacrifice something else in return.
Andrea R. Flores ’10 is a history concentrator in Currier House. She is the president of the Undergraduate Council.