In the midst of the little wars that erupt periodically in New Haven and Princeton between undergraduates and the sharp-eyed Deans' Office, the freedom-loving sons of Eli and Nassau repeatedly point north to their Cambridge brethren. Yearly, they ask for similar mature and reasonable treatment from their own administrators. Basking as they do, then, in the the light of benevolent rule, Harvard students may be expected to be amazed if not a little hurt when University Hall suddenly turns to severe and unprecedented disciplinary measures. The recent Administrative Board decision to put seven undergraduates with heavy parking violations on probation was both uncalled for and unnecessary.
No one would question the Board's theoretical right to take action against parking violators. Anyone who has ever tried to park in the vicinity of Harvard Square, knows the severity of the problem. Parking violations are clearly against the law and the University's "Regulations for Students" provide for discipline in "offenses against law and order." Of course, the Dean's Office cannot be expected to announce each specific disciplinary measure before it enforces its rules.
But whether or not a vague rule in the Regulations Book requires students to "behave with the maturity and responsibility expected of a Harvard student," the Dean's Office gave no indication that it would suddenly apply the general rule to the parking situation. Illegal parking has been going on for years without decanal admonishment. In effect, by not publicizing its attitude, the Administration was giving its tacit consent to minor parking violations by permitting them to continue so long. "We're doing this," Dean Leighton said on Wednesday, "so that the community will feel the University is acting with some perception of the parking problem." Surely the Administrative Board could just as effectively have shown its cognizance of the problem by announcing that future parking violators would be liable for probation. Duly warned that their offense was not merely frowned on as inconsistent with "maturity and responsibility," students who continued to violate a clearly defined rule would have no complaint coming when their actions were followed by probation.
Severity of Probation
Aside, however, from the methods involved in this particular case, it is difficult to see how the Dean's Office concludes that parking violations merit probation. Probation has always been a serious matter: it is an official notification to a student that he is in serious danger of separation from the College. Students on probation may neither hold scholarships, compete for prizes, or represent the University. The measure is a just and effective instrument when used to correct academic or social misdemeanor. But when it is unexpectedly employed to prevent something that hundreds of local homeowners do in front of their houses every night--an act that the University has, in practice, permitted for years--probation is degraded to a position slightly higher than a reprimand for jay-walking.
The University would far better let parking violations be handled by strictly enforced fines, license revoking, and other civil measures. The responsibility of the University community to Cambridge in helping to alleviate one of its most pressing problems is clear. Nonetheless, the Dean's Office would retain the trust of the students and follow a sounder and more effective policy if it made its intentions clear before such sudden changes of practice as well as reserving probation for more serious orenses.