An Open Commission

THE Commission of Inquiry is Harvard's only official channel for student complaints. It is supposed to direct complaints to the appropriate places and can assume an advocate role. It went through an extensive Faculty-ordered self-examination last year and concluded that its main problem was that nobody knew that it existed. Since that conclusion came out in a report last Spring, the commission has done very little to assert itself as a major force in the University. Its publicity campaign has been limited to a one paragraph mention in the handbook of undergraduate regulations, and it has not even met this year, though it has received complaints, because its two student members have not been selected.

Besides this near-total inactivity, the selection process for its members, which is based more on convenience than on making the commission a representative body, keeps the commission from the public eye.

Although the commission's three Faculty members can come from any branch of the Faculty, this year--like last year--they are all members of the Faculty Council who volunteered for the job when the commission was mentioned at a council meeting. Because representation has been limited to Faculty Council members a large portion of the rest of the Faculty remains unaware of the commission's existence.

Similarly, the method for selection of student commission members tends to keep the commission in obscurity and restrict its choice of members to people already on one of the three student-Faculty committees--the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life, the Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Committee on Graduate Education. These three committees all nominate some or all of their student members for the commission, and the Faculty Council chooses two of the nominees. The procedure for deciding which nominees are selected has not yet been settled on for this year--but last year it was done by pulling names out of a hat.

The Commission of Inquiry has other problems besides its inactivity and obscurity. Last year its role remained undefined. Also, it refused to consider any complaint it received that was of major consequence. It still has no direct power; its recommendations can always be completely ignored.


None of these problems can be dealt with until the commission gets moving. As long as Harvard presumes a commitment to providing a channel for complaints the commission should change its selection procedure so that any student can run and be popularly elected--which would make it more truly representative and give it publicity--and then convene as quickly as possible.