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HPC Meets Mixed Success, Leads Sheltered Existence

By Linda J. Greenhouse

Monro, for one, sees the signs. "We are entering an uneasy period of time in student-Faculty relations," he commented last month. "There is no question but that we should have a greater undergraduate voice in running the college."

When the HPC and HUC emerged from the mutilated remains of the Harvard Council on Undergraduate Affairs in February, 1965, they were immediately labeled "student government's last chance at Harvard."

"If the idea was that this would be a student government," mused Bruce Chalmers, Master of Winthrop House and one of the HPC's three Faculty members, "then you would have to say that it's been a failure."

But that was not the idea, as Chalmers and most other people connected with the Harvard Policy Committee would be quick to point out. Exactly what the idea was, then and now, is not always clear, and that is the basic problem in trying to weigh the successes and failures of Harvard's non-student non-government.

The 1965 Yearbook article on the new HPC-HUC organization said optimistically, "How long they will last is anybody's guess." Well, they have lasted--not so small a thing in a college which saw the Student Council and the HCUA die off within the space of three years. Success number one.

And, success number two, the groups have followed original inten-separate ways. H. Reed Ellis '65, the old HCUA's last chairman and chief architect of the HPC-HUC plan, recalls that "student politics" issues, such as parietals and interhouse, absorbed all of his committee's time at the expense of academic issues. In writing the new constitution, he wanted to provide for the student politics function but also ensure that students could deal with fundamental educational policy questions.

That is what has happened: the more traditional roles have fallen to the HUC, and the HPC has tried to make something substantive out of its constitutional mandate, which exhorted it "to cooperate with the Faculty and Administration in studying college policies of general interest to the student body." Ellis, now at the Law School, is pleased. "But," he adds, "anything would have been better than the HCUA."

Masters Choose HPC Members

The image of a student politico does not fit many of the HPC's 14 undergraduate members--one from each House, two freshmen, and three Cliffies. Unlike HCUA members, who were elected at large from each House, HPC members are appointed by the Masters. This is a source of strength for the committee, since the Masters can choose people who are interested in the HPC agenda but would not necessarily enter or win a House election.

The selection process is a large factor in the character of the committee. The membership is somewhat top heavy toward students in academic groups 1, 2 and 3 and, some feel, is likely to be in closer touch with the Masters than with its constituency. But the constituency, after all, has the HUC.

The 14 undergraduates meet in one of Phillips Brooks Houses's oriental-carpeted rooms for two hours every Friday afternoon with Dean Monro, Radcliffe associate dean Catherine D. Williston, and the three Faculty members elected by the group each year. When the two hours are up, the discussion is ended and the subject deferred until the next time--and the time after that, and the time after that. The entire group is almost never present, and at least once the chairman could not muster a quorom. The meetings, David Riesman, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences and a member last year, recalls, "were just dreadful. But then virtually all meetings are."

One Success, One Fiasco

The HPC ends the year midway through the term of its third chairman with a few irons in the fire and a long list of where to begin again in September. Its one unqualified success and one fiasco of near classic proportions say much about the committee.

The success has been its departmental audits. "This strikes me as being the real payoff. There is nothing like it anywhere," Dean Monro, one of the HPC's staunchest allies, has said. When this program was originally set up during the HPC's first year, chairman Michael E. Abram '66 and audit committee chairman Evan Davis '66 planned to investigate seven departments a year, so that each department would be reviewed every four years.

The task was not quite so easy. Audits are conducted in subcommittees, one for each department. There is usually an HPC member on each subcommittee, and the other members are concentrators in the department; the HPC audit subcommittee chairman oversees the program. Since the administrative structure and general attitude of departments vary widely, a new audit has few precedents to rely on. And the time-consuming work involved must come from students who themselves have no stake in the HPC. As a result, only six audits have been completed (Government, Applied Math, Chemistry, English, Biology, and Classics), with varying degrees of success.

Government Audit

But by a stroke of luck, the most successful audit (in terms of proposals accepted) was the first and most highly-publicized one, the Government Department audit. That audit combined hard-working subcommittee members with a cooperative department chairman, and the spill-over from that success has set the tone for the whole program. "It acted as a catalyst for other departments," Riesman has noted; he feels that it helps a reform-minded Faculty member to be able to say authoritatively that "the students want this." Chalmers too thinks that the audits have been the HPC's most valuable contribution. "They make people on both sides explain their position, and build up an intelligent dialogue," he explained.

The audits scheduled for next year are Architectural Sciences, Biochemistry, Social Relations, Social Studies, Romance Languages, and History, which will probably be the major effort. Henry R. Norr '68, the HPC's current chairman, hopes to shift the emphasis of the audits from a department's bureauctic regulations to the substance of departmental offerings and the quality of teaching. Whether audits with this new emphasis meet with the past cooperation from departments will be an interesting test of how institutionalized the program has become.

HPC's Nemesis: Pass-Fail

The HPC's nemesis, which hung it up for a year, was pass-fail. It wreaked any amount--depending on who is relating the story--of damage to the committee's morale, prestige, and future.

To reduce a confusing chronology to comprehensibility: the HPC's second group of members, with Ronald L. Trosper '67 as chairman, began early in their tenure to consider two questions--liberalizing the rules for taking a free fifth course, and experimenting with ungraded courses as were being tried at Princeton and Brown. Someone, on one of those Friday afternoons, suggested combining the two ideas in a proposal to allow students to take a free fifth course on a pass-fail basis. This combination, some members maintain, was the first mistake.

Time ran out last spring, and the committee began the year with the same question: what to do about the fifth course policy, and what to do about pass-fail. Encouraged by Dean Monro, and tired of going over the same ground again and again, the committee wrote the framework of a pass-fail fifth course proposal and presented it to the Faculty's Committee on Educational Policy for approval and details. Acceptance by the CEP would mean that Faculty approval was virtually certain. With Monro presenting the HPC's case, the CEP accepted the proposal and filled in the administrative details. It stipulated that the pass-fail option, once declared for one course, could not be switched to another or dropped.

New HPC Differs

Meanwhile, the fall term ended and a new HPC took office. Monro suggested that the CEP send its pass-fail proposal, in final form and ready for a Faculty vote, back to the new HPC for its approval. "I expected that the HPC would approve it and that we'd be sailing right along," recalls Monro, who watched "in distress" as the new HPC members decided that the proposal did not give pass-fail the flexibility they hoped it would. For fear of arousing the students' resentment, Monro said little as the new committee disowned the proposal and wrote out a new one asking that pass-fail be attached to a fourth course, as well as a fifth.

"That was my second mistake," Monro says now. "First I should have let it go through the CEP without sending it back to the HPC. The Faculty would have voted it without hesitation and from there we could have gone on to a four-course pass-fail in a few years. And then I should have made a firm speech to the HPC, but I didn't want them to look like a rubber stamp."

Monro blames himself for the mess. Chalmers, who supported the new committee's stand, blames the psychology of both the CEP and the HPC. "It was a case of each trying to second guess the other," he explains. "The HPC asked for what they thought they could get, and the CEP gave what they thought was wanted. Each should have gone for what they wanted in the first place."

The four-course proposal must now go through the CEP process again next fall. Its chances, on the face of the evidence, do not look good. Monro will be gone--not, of course, that he would have championed the new proposal in any case. "And frankly," he says, "the CEP is tired of talking about it. Any discussion next fall will be tempered by the feeling that the HPC's membership is changing in February, and the new group may disown it all over again."


Membership turnover and the resulting discontinuity will always be a problem; it is that way for any undergraduate organization. And when students attempt to work closely with a permanent Faculty the problem is highlighted. "The Faculty can afford to take the long-term perspective," current chairman Norr has commented. "They will be here. But we're coming and going, and we don't care about five years ago or five years from now. It makes them think that we're impatient. Well, I guess we are."

The long-range effect of the pass-fail mess, and the underlying problems that caused it, will become clearer next year. Former chairman Trosper is more optimistic than Monro. "People have short memories," he has said, noting that the Faculty might be impressed by the HPC's willingness and ability to rethink a position thoroughly. But aside from prestige, another unfortunate consequence of the year-long hassle with pass-fail was the opportunity cost: the HPC did little else.

Toward the end of the fall term, the committee did propose "alternative routes" to fulfilling the language requirement, such as linguistics or comparative literature courses. The proposal was duly passed on to the CEP, where it stands a good chance of someday reopening the Faculty debate on the whole question of the language requirement. But so far nothing specific has come of it.

Atfer Pass-Fail: What Next?

Henry Norr recalls that "when we finished pass-fail, I suddenly had the, realization that, now that we could go on to something else, there was really nothing to do. It was too late in the year to start something, and I began to wonder if the HPC is really as firmly established as Dean Monro seems to think."

Norr, an activist by nature ("It wouldn't be bad for the HPC to shoot off a little now and then"), does have things in mind for next year. He wants to look into the possibility of liberalizing requirements for independent study and for setting up a central independent study office to recruit (and possibly pay for) Faculty and then match them with interested students. He would like to make it easier for students to set up courses and even concentration programs of their own. One HPC member has received a grant to do his thesis on the sophomore slump, and the committee may continue some rudimentary work it began this year on the problem.

Norr also plans a major study, in conjunction with the HUC, on the Houses. It will cover everything from House courses to overcrowding to parietals to the possibility of allowing graduate students to replace undergraduates who wish to move off campus.

Next Year: No Monro

There will be one major difference in the fall. Dean Monro, the source of continuity through the HPC's three terms, will be gone. It is hard to overestimate the role Monro has played on the committee. From the beginning, he has been one of its strongest supporters. When the old HCUA decided to abolish itself, it gave the college a referendum offering a choice between the HCUA and the new HPC-HUC. Conspicuously absent was the choice of nothing at all; the HCUA feared, quite rightly, that if given that choice the college would take nothing. As it was, less than half of the college bothered to vote. Reed Ellis remembers Monro telling him that if the college didn't vote itself a student government, he would set one up himself.

Monro, who attended about half the HPC meetings, saw himself as an ambassador, "running back and forth" between students and Faculty (the Dean sits on the CEP but has no vote) presenting the views of each to the other. "A Dean should have an eye on strategy," he commended recently. "He can help students bring the pieces together by encouraging the strong things, nursing things along, making them more effective. But he has to be careful not to make it his committee."

There was no doubt that Monro enjoyed the role, and on occasion used the HPC as a sounding board for some of his pet ideas. "It was great to have him," Norr says. "He took a lot of the guesswork away, and gave us his vast knowledge of administrative history and his immense good will."

Riesman, who watched the committee for a year, agrees. "Students usually think of the Faculty as their friend and the administration as their enemy," he said. "Monro showed that sometimes the reverse can be true. He gave the HUC some leverage amid the shoals of academic vested interest."

Next year the liaison role will fall to the new Dean, Fred Glimp. "A lot will depend on what Glimp does," Monro commented. "I advise him to make a lot of it."

To anyone not familiar with the vaguely apathetic consensus which keeps the Harvard system running smoothly, the HPC must seem a strange breed of student government. Masters handpick 14 students, and the dean takes the students' case to the Faculty. Former chairman Trosper, commenting on the educational liberalism of some professors says, "students have to run pretty hard to keep up with some of the Faculty members."

Chances are that it will seem increasingly strange to the Harvard community too as months pass. The HPC seems now to exist in a vacuum. It is sheltered above by the good will of Monro and below by the apathy of the masses, from ever having actually to define its role. Established by student referendum to "cooperate with Faculty and administration," the HPC has played it just that way. It sees its role, in Trosper's words, as "providing a structured way to present student opinion in some semblance of a well thought-out consensus. Then we have to trust in the Faculty's ability and willingness to listen to reason." Most students and Faculty members, chairman Norr feels, "respect the HPC in a vague way. We have a certain amount of good will to build on."

It is, undoubtedly, a fine game to play, this mutual respect and reasoning together, and it is safe to say that the HPC will keep playing it as long as it can. But, as the Radcliffe hunger strike, the organized movement for parietal reform, and the growing pressure for off-campus living at both Harvard and Radcliffe indicate, the natives are getting restless.

Uneasy Period Ahead

Monro, for one, sees the signs, "We are entering an uneasy period of time in the fall. Dean Monro, the source mented last month. "There is no question but that we should have a greater undergraduate voice in running the college. It's refreshing for everyone, and the Faculty wants to be reasonable. The problem is how to organize this growing feeling into an effective force, and we're feeling our way. The HPC is the best thing we've had yet, but it won't be the last."

"I don't know if we've contributed a hell of a lot," Norr reflected recently. "We take advantage of our opportunities, such as they are. The administration will always pat us on the back without giving us too much; and students, after all, always want something, but not too much."

"Too much" is a relative thing. It will be interesting to watch the HPC and see how it responds if and when students want more

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