The Strauch Committee: Talking Over the Politics of Sex

In January Presidents Bok and Horner appointed a committee with faculty, administration, alumni association and student representatives to study Harvard and Radcliffe's admissions, financial aid and educational policies and prepare recommendations for next year's review of the "non-merger merger" contract.

The 16-member committee, chaired by Karl Strauch, professor of Physics, has set next February as the target for the release of its final report. Although no specific recommendations have yet been formulated, informed sources say a majority of the committee now favors sex-blind admissions coordinated through one office and an increase of about 10 per cent in the size of the undergraduate student body. About three quarters of the committee have indicated their preference for these alternatives in straw votes taken at weekly committee meetings, the sources said.

The Strauch committee has not been asked to look into actual questions of merger between Harvard and Radcliffe, only questions of admissions alternatives and the effect each of these alternatives will have upon the number of students, their distribution in various academic departments, alumni relations, financial aid programs and special education needs of women in the Harvard community.

Most of the weekly meetings this year have concentrated on the various outside reports on male-female admissions policies, and in interviewing alumni, faculty and administrators within the Harvard community.

The committee has studied reports prepared by similar groups at Yale and Princeton, and has attempted to gather any other outside information available. However, committee members say they are reluctant to rely upon statistics and perceptions prepared by sources outside the University. "I don't know whether it's a sort of elitism or what," one member said, "but we pretty much want to work this out on our own." Alberta B. Arthurs, dean of Radcliffe's admissions, added this week that the committee members are "all very much aware and proud of the fact that Harvard is unique," and that the emphasis of the committee would be to take an internal look at this community's needs without regard to those of other universities.


The committee has solicited testimony from within Harvard to map out the opinions of various student, faculty and alumni groups and to be able to accurately portray the problems posed by each option considered.

The three major options the Strauch Committee is exploring are admissions based upon:

* The present enforced ratio of 2.5 to 1;

* Maintaining a forced ratio, but moving toward equalizing the number of men and women; and,

* A procedure which does not consider ratios or an individual's sex, and the consolidation of the Harvard and Radcliffe admissions offices.

Most members appear to assume that the Harvard and Radcliffe admissions offices will consolidate in the near future.

Committee members agree that it is desirable to move away from the current 2.5 to 1 ratio, so next fall's discussion will probably center around the resolution of the choice between strict one to one and sex blind admissions. The group is now attempting to carefully explore the consequences of each option for the whole university and women in particular.

Strauch reportedly has set a rigorous work-load for the committee, but also has been able to keep the committee from any serious splits of opinion that might hinder their work. In fact, the only incident which has provoked a major split thus far is the question of increasing the size of the college to accommodate more women. The students on the committee all say they oppose any such move because of the already strained housing and educational resources for undergraduates. All the other members of the committee have at least expressed a willingness to consider the size increase. Most of the older committee members appear to fear the prospect posed by Dr. Chase N. Peterson '52, vice president for alumni affairs and development, that any decrease in the number of men at Harvard could seriously threaten efforts to maintain existing levels of alumni donations.

The most controversial and extended debates the committee faces are expected this fall when the members attempt to hammer out a workable program they can recommend to Bok and Horner. The committee will then have to wrestle with the many problems posed by any increase in the size of Harvard's student body.

Preliminary support for sex-blind rather than one-to-one admissions among committee members seems to be influenced by the feeling that federal legislation may be passed in coming years that will force all university admissions procedures to be done without regard to sex. But several members of the committee say they fear that a sex-blind procedure would favor men and could never lead to more than a 40 per cent admission rate for women. "Even if Harvard itself takes a totally unbiased approach in sex-blind admissions, the influences of high school guidance counselors and existing norms would tend to favor men," one committee member said.