Vote Yes

Berkeley's Free Speech movement has inspired undergraduates throughout the country to demand more respectful hearings from college officials. Even at Harvard a group of students has begun arguing for "stronger student government" and has obtained considerable support. They have denounced tonight's referendum as a step toward weaker student government. Primarily they object to the lack of democratically elected representatives in the proposed organization.

Yet three years ago the Harvard Student Council, as it was then called, was disbanded, and reorganized as the Harvard Council on Undergraduate Affairs--precisely in order to decentralize power and to ensure that the new Council would not attempt to "represent" student opinion. In the old Student Council three representatives had been elected from each House. The HCUA reduced this number to one elected representative from each house and one appointed by each House committee.

The number of elected representatives was cut back because, historically, elections have not produced encouraging results. Undergraduates who run for student office at Harvard have too often been politicians interested only in adding another office to their records. Students seriously interested in educational policy or college affairs have seen far more challenge in endeavors other than student politics. And many people, after a plethora of high school elections, are simply no longer interested in running for office once they reach Harvard.

Elections are even more unfortunate in focusing attention on numerical superiority. In an intellectual community the power of the idea is more important than the number of people who favor it. In the early 1950's the Student Council, composed of a combination of elected and appointed representatives, prepared a number of well-written and carefully prepared reports. The Administration not only accepted many of the Council's proposals, but even printed the reports at its own expense.

The attractive rallying cry of "stronger student govarnment" masks other important considerations. What does the cry mean? What would a strong student government do?

Presumably there are three arenas in which a student organization could do battle: outside politics, educational policy, and social regulations. Very few Harvard undergraduates desire an organization that would make foreign policy suggestions to President Johnson. (It was the activity of the President of the Student Council in the political sphere three years ago that precipitated the demands for reorganization.)

The Faculty, in its infinite wisdom, has always maintained control of educational policy and will clearly continue to do so. There is, however, a legitimate role for students in this realm. The Faculty needs--and occasionally desires--feedback from its pedagogical efforts. Intelligent and constructive criticism of academic policies from students can produce changes. But under the present Council, neither reasoned comment nor intelligent criticism has been forthcoming.

The proposed Harvard Policy Committee (HPC) would be composed of eleven undergraduates, one appointed by each House Master and two appointed by the Freshman Council. Since Dean Monro and three Faculty members would meet weekly with the committees, the HPC offers a real possibility of intelligent student participation in the evaluation of educational policy. The HPC ought to hold open meetings, and ideally they would evolve into forums at which concerned undergraduates and faculty members could exchange ideas freely. But in any case, this arrangement offers more hope for an effective dialogue than the present Council which meets in splendid isolation each month on the tenth floor of the Health Center.

A stronger student voice would be most justifiable in the administration of social regulations. Unfortunately the University imposes so few restrictions that action in this area is relatively constrained by the narrowness of the field. Nonetheless, it would be perfectly appropriate to have a joint student-faculty committee to make decisions on, or at least review, parietals, food quality, the honesty of the HSA, the pricing policies of the Coop, and other similar problems.

Unless such a committee can be created, the proposed Harvard Undergraduate Council (HUC) can probably lobby most effectively for these administrative changes. The House Committee chairman who will be on the HUC will have the best possible access to the Masters. If students favor the creation of the stronger committee, they can lobby for it after tonight's referendum.

No purpose can be served by retaining the present HCUA. It has accomplished little and distinguished itself not at all, despite a diligent chairman and executive committee. Those who speak of an abstract stronger body as the save-all would do better to talk in more concrete terms. The separation of educational policy concerns from the issues of social regulations can do their cause no harm, and it will clearly improve the present situation. A "Yes" vote tonight is a vote in favor of a more intelligent--and therefore a more effective--organization.