Harvard administrators are doing a lot of thrashing around these days over the kind of problem that annoys them most--one they can't do anything about.
On the surface, it doesn't sound especially serious: A new federal law that goes into effect next month will give students access to their previously confidential school files. But administrators and Faculty members are unanimous in their criticism of the law, which they say will, bring an end to frank, straightforward faculty recommendations for students.
Harvard is stuck with the law now, and there is little recourse but compliance. For the moment, the extent of the University's resistance will probably be a Faculty resolution asking Congress for a delay in the November 19 implementation date of the law.
The Faculty Council approved the resolution this week, which means the full Faculty will almost certainly pass it at its meeting Tuesday.
As a way of letting off steam, the resolution may do wonders for the enraged Faculty, but it's unlikely to have enormous impact.
Charles U. Daly, vice president for government and community affairs and Harvard's chief liason with the federal government, said this week that the resolution will be "helpful," but cautioned: "I don't know when in the history of the Republic a resolution from the faculty of a distinguished university had any effect on Congress."
So besides the resolution, administrators are also working out tentative guidelines for compliance with the law; in that respect they seem to be ahead of other Ivy League colleges, whose administrators this week echoed Harvard's criticism of the files law but seemed less sure how they will adapt to it.
The preliminary plan is for the University to try between now and January to contact everyone who has written recommendations for students' files under an assumption of confidentiality, and ask them if they will let the recommendations remain in the files. If the people who wrote the letters request it, the University will destroy their documents.
That still doesn't ease the pain much. Congress does not reconvene until the day before the law goes into effect, so it seems certain that for a while at least, much to Harvard's consternation, students will be able to see their files.