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In the past year Harvard Student Agencies has appeared in these pages on no less than forty occasions. At length there must come a time to ask why the HSA should be the subject of such continual controversy. The Agencies form a complex of highly professionalist businesses, controlling a number of monopolies, turning over vast sums of money, employing a large percentage of the undergraduate body, and expanding furiously in all directions. The HSA unquestionably is important, and it is controversial for at least three reasons: it lacks a rigidly defined scope of activity; the secrecy it imposes on its financial affairs encourages suspicion; and the University fails to provide a tight and impartial control over its monopolistic and expansionistic tendencies.
More basic than the continual complaints about methods and operations, however, is a conflict between the ethics of the professional student business and the amateur extra-curricular organization. The HSA looms as the natural enemy of all undergraduate organizations dependent on volunteer manpower, for it adds monetary rewards to the incentives a non-profit organization can offer. Why should a student interested in business training work for the intangibles of experience and prestige alone, when he can get these and cash on the line as well by managing an HSA agency? And even if the student does not need financial assistance to pay College costs, extra pocket money is always welcome.
A student volunteers to sell advertising without pay because of the experience he gains, the prestige of belonging to a well-run organization, and the incentive of a possible position as business manager (a title that carries fascinating responsibilities as well as a lot of work, and one that rewards its holder with a fine recommendation to go along with his Business School application.
Unfortunately, this volunteer spirit is fast becoming anachronistic in today's colleges. More and more students are using their time away from the classrooms and libraries to learn business techniques by managing student enterprises. From the idea that activities should train students in money making techniques against the day they become career capitalists it is only a short step to assume that, after all, you might as well make the training realistic and add the profit motive as well. This trend is not limited to Harvard but, along with increasing professionalism in other areas, is becoming a primary force in all college education.
When undergraduates fly at the HSA, they generally have little trouble finding a subject of controversy or an enhancement into an area volunteer organizations consider theirs. But the efforts of volunteer organizations to thwart the HSA are also attempts to preserve the last backwaters of the amateur undergraduate, to stay for a brief moment the flood of professionalism into the college.
There is nothing inevitable about this flood. Certain HSA activities encroach; others do not; and it would be pointless to insist that the entire agency is a sweeping, irresistible evil. (The article below is part of an attempt to illustrate this). The trouble is simply that the University refuses to trim offending activities down to their proper size. No doubt the fact that the HSA Director wears extra hats in the student employment office and in Administration committees has something to do with Harvard's passivity, but it certainly cannot completely explain who the Administration apparently never subjects the HSA to thorough, formal, review. Although condemning the HSA would be sheer hysterics, examination selectively is not.
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