The ties between the Harvard student Agencies and the University are both immediate and remote. With the autonomy which the University usually grants to student organizations, the HSA operates under little Faculty or administrative control. The highest positions in the HSA are not University offices, but independent jobs. However, the Agencies, which employ several hundred undergraduates, also form an integral part of Harvard's student employment program. The HSA supplies goods and services to many in the College, and because of its large capital, can influence almost any completing student business. But the closest connection with the University resides in the person of Dustin M. Burke '52, General Manager of the Harvard Student Agencies, secretary of the Committee on Solicitation, and Director of Student Employment in Harvard College.
Like most other University officials, Burke has been granted powers that should only be exercised, if at all, with the utmost discretion. Unlike most other University officials, Burke has acted conspicuously in ways that leave his discretion in doubt.
In a letter to parents from the HSA Birthday Cake Agency, Burke stated that competitors of HSA would not be allowed to deliver in the College dormitories. Burke later claimed that this policy had been established by the Committee on Solicitation, but other members of the Committee, the Chief of University Police, and seven Masters have denied knowledge of it.
Thus Burke's performance as secretary of the Committee on Solicitation and Director of the HSA has not been without incident. The success of his dual role as Director of Student Employment and of the HSA is also questionable. Instead of strengthening the Employment Office where he felt a need could be filled by providing entertainment jobs for students, he encouraged the establishment of an HSA Entertainment Agency. The University's Casual Employment Office receives no fee on student earnings; the HSA Entertainment Agency receives around ten per cent.
That such conflicts of interest should arise is an inevitable result of the positions Burke holds; that he should conspicuously resolve them as he has--in favor of the HSA--is not such a result. In other cases, Burke's policies in running the HSA have led to legal action. Without in the least prejudicing the outcome of a case still in court, it is legitimate to observe that Burke's discretion has not matched the sensitivity of his position.
In the years since its founding in 1957, the HSA has often been accused of abusing the quasi-monopolistic position which its intimate relationship with the University ensures. Many of these accusations stem from the way the Agencies have been directed. The HSA deserves a chance to function independently of a director whom many will not trust, a man who, exposed to peculiar temptations, has on occasion apparently succumbed to them. The great potential for good of the HSA should not be frustrated by an indiscreet manager.
At the same time, the Student Employment Office deserves the full attention of its director. When freed of a conflict of interests, Burke ought to be able to lavish on the job the energy he put into the HSA.
Thus Burke ought to resign his position with the HSA. And the Harvard Student Agencies, if they are to receive more than the execrations of the community, deserve closer guidance. The University ought to modify the charter of the Agencies so that they are directed by a professional manager employed in that capacity by the University, not by the HSA. A review committee with the power to veto any HSA activity ought to be appointed by the Administrative Board. Professors from the Business School seem to be the logical choice for members of this committee; in any case its members should no be so august that they are inactive.
These changes should cure the schizophrenia in the relation between the HSA and the University.