SHOULD THE GRADUATE Student and Teaching Fellow Union strike scheduled to begin today come off as planned, it will be a major triumph of double-think. It will hardly be a true indicator of the political temper of Harvard's student population.
Anyone who can successfully sift through the morass of claim and counterclaim which characterized this production will arrive at the confounding conclusion that there are no hard and fast answers in the graduate student controversy.
In it simplest terms, the graduate student debate comes down to a demand for uniform financial aid, for students who may or may not need it, without any consideration of parental or spouse income. The debate hinges on $15 million in income from Harvard's endowment which, according to which side you are talking to, may or may not be in use currently.
Really, though, in this tiff generated by academics who are bad politicians and made into a donnybrook by a constituency of budding academics, the question of who is right and who is wrong is, well, an academic one.
Very few undergraduates are close enough to the issues at hand to resolve this quandary. Yet they are being called upon to make the Union's strike action a success. It follows that widespread or lasting support of the strike by undergraduates is unlikely; the Union steering committee, meeting last Thursday night, came to about the same conclusion. They scheduled an open meeting of the Union for this Thursday night, since four days seemed to be the outward limit for undergraduate support.
Except for the prospect of cancelled section meetings, or perhaps the delayed return of an hour exam or paper, students in the College have little direct contact with the Graduate Student Union. Certainly, there have not been many undergraduates at Union meetings this past month. Nor has there been pressure brought to bear or people in the College to acquaint themselves with the issues. This should not be surprising, though, since at most 200 teaching fellows--those in the best position to bring pressure--have bothered to enroll Union.
Most undergraduates who miss classes today will be people who have yet to buy notebooks for the second semester, or those whose instinctual reaction to the words "union" and "strike" is "support the demands." In the "Us Against Them" world of students, faculty and administrators, this knee-jerk reaction is understandable. Beneath the surface, however, the purported convergence of interest between graduate students and undergraduates is an uncertain proposition.
The most compelling reasons for undergraduates to join the strike are to support the Union's bargaining position and to ensure a maintenance of the current number of teaching fellows (about 1200). Incorporated in this second demand is a clause guaranteeing no reduction in the present number of teaching fifths.
But these educational considerations seem to be of use only in bolstering the strength of the Union, and in fact are low priority compared to the Union's emphasis on the bread-and-butter issues.
The Union is more concerned with uniform aid according to need, and with the elimination of parental and spouse incomes as determinants of need, than with how many fifths of teaching are available. Less than half of the 2800 GSAS students currently teach, out an 2000 are affected by fluctuation in the GSAS budget. So it seems possible that the Union is playing off curriculum needs to garner undergraduate support in a money controversy; certainly, there have been no lists circulating which outline the benefit undergraduates stand to gain by supporting the Union.
There are also the unanswered questions of why, if the financial crunch under the Kraus Plan is so great, Union membership has been so difficult to build, and why it has leveled off at half its size of 1972. (Only 12 new members have joined since Monday's decision to strike). In turn, these questions raise doubts about just how badly off graduate students are in general. Of course, the prospects for an academic are such that someone just out of the GSAS is unlikely to be able to pay off student loans as readily as a graduate of the Law School or Business School. But the Faculty, while admitting that the cost of graduate education has outrun inflation, maintains that a Harvard Ph.D., as good as any credential for a young academic, is comparatively cheap.
Regardless, graduate students respond, the criteria the GSAS uses to establish need is unfair, and all students, in all years at the GSAS, should receive uniform assistance according to full need. But if graduate students have no outside income, if parental and spouse income are not incorporated into calculations of need, and if additional teaching fifths are not subtracted from need, then about the only monetary requirements for three to eight years at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is the application fee.
Fine, but this would require a modest amount of new funds, of which, the administration say, none are available. And this is the crux of the issue: so long as there is no more money available, no plan for financing graduate education will be entirely satisfactory. There is, however, a middle ground, and graduate students contend that the Kraus Plan does not occupy this position.
Some administrators even admit that had the Union been visible this fall, the Kraus Plan never would have reached the implementation stage. But there was no Union, and graduate students put their faith in the Faculty-student Commisssion on Graduate Education. Then, as the Commission fell into circular debate and the budget deadline approached, the Kraus Plan was crystallized although the Commission never reached any concrete decisions on aid to graduate students. The student population was miffed. So the Union was reborn.
The central issue, then, is as much one of protecting the position of influence of graduate students as it is one of financial need. The Faculty's typically ridiculous "debate" on the issue last Tuesday did little to soothe hurt feelings.
Despite more than adequate advance notice, not even a quorum was present at the Faculty meeting. The chief reaction of Faculty was to counter use of force by students; they seemed to be saying, "Say, come on guys. Let's keep academic solidarity in the fight against the big, mean Federal government."
Only one professor, Everett Mendelsohn, seriously addressed the Union demands. Not once in the meeting was the Union mentioned by name by a Faculty member. At 6 p.m., the moment to terminate or extend debate, the Faculty packed up and went home. It could not be more clear that it doesn't really give a damn, and will gladly leave the graduate students to the administration so long as Faculty members still have the same number of graduate students to do their research.
Which brings us back to the educational considerations in the Union controversy which of course.....
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