Debate and the Deanery

A local high school principal once advised student newspaper editors at his school, "Feel free to comment on any issue that I haven't made up my mind about." The Dean of Harvard College is now playing the high school principal role with student representatives.

Dean Monro has never been one to squelch debate among students; he normally welcomes full discussion of issues pending before the College. On the new freshman housing system, the role of the Student Council, the Peace Corps, Project Jarba, non-honors tutorial, General Education, and other problems, Monro arrived at a final decision only after hearing from all sides.

This fall, Monro has evinced unusual impatience with debate on issues that he has already made up his mind about. "Worrying about dirty laundry is a waste of time, in view of the other problems before the University community," Monro snapped to student representatives who were inquiring about the HSA linen depot system in the Yard. Dirty linen itself is a petty issue, but the shoddy handling of the depot system by the Administration and the suspicious reluctance to explain its innovation are grounds for student concern and continued investigation. (Freshman Dean von Stade thought the issue important enough to discuss among his proctors.) Last spring Monro welcomed a sackful of opinions on English and Latin diplomas, hardly a more weighty issue.

The surest way to kill debate and controversy, according to bureaucrats, is to appoint a committee; and Monro has tried to divert controversy in advocating the creation of an advisory group among the Houses to meet with HSA officials. He claims that he welcomes constant scrutiny of the Agencies by members of the community, and at the same time passes off specific inquiries about HSA and prefers to keep financial records private. Monro shows great confidence in "the organization at heart," says he knows nothing about the awarding of certain high-paying jobs, and disclaims responsibility, although he is an HSA Board member, in the selection of those job-holders.

Again unlike the Monro of old, the Dean has said that he would hope to avoid the "rhetoric and debate" that he says would result if the Faculty announced its reasons for prohibiting the hockey team from participation in the NCAA tournament. He says that Harvard has little to gain from "arguing bck and forth and answering a lot of mail." Harvard thinks there is plenty to gain in making clear its protest of NDEA affidavits or its support of the Peace Corps, federal aid to education, and certain admissions and athletic policies. The Faculty's decision on the hockey team has major implications about Harvard's approach to athletics and its decision-making process; the protest action is as important as the others on which the University makes public pronouncements.


Students still possess great freedom to voice publicly their complaints; but this fall in face-to-face meetings with the deans students have been blocked in attempts to discuss issues that may embarrass the Administration.

There are obvious dangers in relying too much on free and open discussion among students; the free marketplace of ideas is not always infallible. On the other hand, squelching debate helps no one. It promotes suspicion of the Administration among the student body. It keeps students out of many issues that involve them. It makes many policies totally bewildering. It may even smother an idea or two that would contribute to a better final decision.

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