There Was a Revolution at Radcliffe

Students looking for change at Harvard this year have focused their attention on red brick Massachusetts Hall, Harvard's oldest building, housing President Pusey's office, or on gray University Hall, where the Dean of the College and the Dean of Students have their offices. There is little to show for it.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away up Garden Street, a revolution has taken place, silent and almost unremarked. There, shortly after the Columbia uprising, the Radcliffe administration agreed to let students sit on the Radcliffe College Council -- the equivalent of the Harvard Corporation. As yet they will not be regular members, but will attend meetings "at the invitation of the President."

There is, however, some assurance that students will be invited to each of the monthly meetings, and will sit in on all discussions relevant to student life. Further, students will become official members of a number of Trustees committees and they have taken the first step towards amending the College statutes so as to become regular members of the College Council.

It would be nice to think that the Radcliffe administration, on its own, had discovered the idea that students could be useful in running a university; in fact, the change is the result of many months of careful work by the officers of the new Radcliffe student government--the Radcliffe Union of Students. Born of many years of boredom and dissatisfaction with student government, where a few devoted student-government types had traditionally limited their concerns to the next jolly-up or strawberry breakfast, the RUS constitution was meant to give students a more responsible and creative role in the University.

The Dow demonstration crystallized much of the dissatisfaction at Radcliffe and gave it a direction: to change student government and make it more responsive to student concerns. Three alternative constitutions were drawn up, and the most radical of these, RUS, won by a slim majority.


In short, RUS meant student power. It called for student representation on the Council and autonomy in ruling its own house--in the past the Council has had to approve any change to the student government's constitution.

The administration response was a categorical no. And so the newly-elected student government officials sat down to work out some acceptable compromise. There were long bull sessions with trustees, there were discussions with the various Council members, with President Mary I. Bunting, and consultations with constitutional law expert, Paul Freund. The tone of these discussions was always very quiet. The term "student power" was carefully avoided, and students appealed to the administration for "student responsibility."

The students compromised and made concessions; they dropped their demands for voting seats on the Council. But the administration did not budge.

Spring came and still no progress had been made. Then, more than a third of the senior class signed a letter regretfully stating that they would not contribute financially to the college as long as the administration continued to refuse students a voice in questions vital to them. It was an extremely effective form of blackmail. Radcliffe, in the red for some time now, has launched a massive fund-raising campaign and is of course counting on foundation support. But foundations pay close attention to statistics of alumni-giving.

And then there was Columbia. A few days later, RUS president Debbie Batts wrote the administration a finely-worded letter. In effect, she warned that it would now be difficult to dissuade Radcliffe students from feeling that the only way to change things was by such drastic measures.

From rhododendron-ringed Fav House, the administration announced after the next Council meeting that it would accept the RUS constitution and that Mrs. Bunting would invite students to future Council meetings.

Why was the revolution so quiet, and why was it successful? Radcliffe students have never really been interested in student government. This year there were so many more important things going on. Fewer than half the students voted for any kind of student government in the December election and interest in the future of RUS was at best sporadic. But in a sense this helped. Throughout the long negotiations, Miss Batts, with the skill of a seasoned diplomat, was very careful not to push the administration not a corner, not to precipitate a "confrontation," not to heat emotions. And when the ultimatum came, it came in a very subtle form: Columbia. The administration did not feel directly challenged. It did not have to worry about saving face.

What the revolution will mean in the long run, and what "student power" means, is still an open question. Obviously, it will not mean the Millennium. Nevertheless, it is hard not to conclude that Radcliffe is now several leaps ahead of any other university and heading in the right direction.

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