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The Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL) will call to order the first of its monthly meetings this afternoon, faced by challenges to its legitimacy as the channel for student input into university decisions and gearing up to deal with a wide-range of new issues.
Even as the dust settles from the controversy surrounding the implementation of Dean Fox's plan to house all freshmen in the Yard, student CHUL representatives said last week they foresee student access to Faculty budgetary data, the closing of the Freshman Union to upperclassmen, the new breakfast plan and pre-freshman year assignment of Houses as the major issues of this afternoon's and future meetings.
Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, will bring before CHUL today a request for official recognition of the Student Lobby, one of the two student advocacy groups challenging CHUL's viability. The group, which organized last week's "Eat-in" breakfast protest, hopes to form a permanent mass-membership, all-student body to present student positions to the administration.
And in another challenge, the Currier House Committee sent to all House committees a request to send delegates to a "constitutional convention" where representatives will draw up a charter for a student government. Organizers said last week they hope the government will coordinate a unified student response on all student-faculty committees.
Organizers of the groups cite CHUL's inability to present a unified student voice and to affect changes in University policy as among their reasons for building the groups.
Now in its seventh year, CHUL was created by Faculty legislation in response to student demands for direct participation on Faculty committees. Officially a standing committee of the Faculty, the student seizure of University Hall in 1969 triggered the formation of the combined CHUL, which is composed of a student representative from each House, every House master and eight administrators including the deans of the College and the Faculty. CHUL's sole official role is to recognize undergraduate organizations; beyond this, the Committee serves to review undergraduate regulations and advise the dean.
Despite CHUL's lack of legal authority, the students seem prepared to begin flexing their muscles. Several of CHUL's student members said last week they plan this year to try to gain more control over the College budget. Many of them view the budget as a sieve through which all new proposals must pass, a possible veto point for all actions students may propose.
Student budgetary demands fall into two categories: access and influence. CHUL members have almost complete access to the "91 account"--the budget for non-academic college expenditures. (Administrators prohibit full access since it would permit students to learn the salaries earned by particular staff members.) The 91 account includes such items as House funds for tutors, House activities and libraries, and shuttle bus service.
Almost every student member however, feels CHUL has access to the food services budget. Last winter CHUL's Food Services subcommittee requested a detailed accounting for the roughly $8 million the College pays yearly to Food Services. Months later, Frank J. Weissbecker, director of Food Services, sent the group a one-page letter, which most student members found an inadequate answer to their request. The students believed they needed precise financial data to arrive at decisions on the breakfast plan, the closing of the Union to upperclassmen, and the method of sending freshmen to the Houses for occasional meals.
"We literally begged Weissbecker," Joseph F. Savage, Jr. '78, says. "But he said he can't make up an accurate budget letter. His reason is that he's understaffed and can't work up a reasonable budget. I think that's baloney."
In order to force Weissbecker to give CHUL complete data, Savage plans to propose a radically changed meal plan he admits "hasn't got a prayer at the November CHUL meeting. He says he views the plan only as a catalyst, an idea that will challenge Food Services to financially justify its own existence.
Savage's plan, which he adds is completely open to alteration, is to have each undergraduate pay a board fee sufficient only to cover the fixed overhead costs of running the House Dining halls--administrative costs, dining hall maintenance and equipment costs, etc. He estimates this fee comes to only about $700 per year. Beyond this fee, students would pay by the meal.
Meals would be priced at cost, Savage says. Because overhead costs will have been paid for, Savage estimates the cost of a meal would be very low, cheaper than comparable meals purchased at a restaurant.
Savage defends his plan against the charge that it would weaken House life by encouraging students to eat meals off-campus. "The only reason that House life would be destroyed is because Food Services can't provide food that's attractive enough to compete against food purchased in the Square that would cost three times as much. If Food Services can't make a meal that people will want to eat, then they should get out of there."
Under his plan, Savage says, a dining hall manager at a House whose residents refused to eat the food would be replaced. "It'll put accountability into the Food Services budget," he says.
Other students on CHUL hope to go beyond the budgetary access issue and gain the power to influence budgetary decisions. Several CHUL members criticized the lack of student input into the budgetary process. Last year, CHUL members were the first to hear Dean Rosovsky officially announced the upcoming year's tuition, room and board fees, but he did so at the first meeting of newly-elected CHUL representatives. As a result, several student members say they felt they were unable to ask Rosovsky pointed, informed questions, because of their lack of familiarity with the tuition topic. Other students criticized the fact that they first see the budget after it is well along in the approval process, at a point where the budget is sufficiently final to leave no room for changes students might suggest.
"We should have tried to get involved in the budgetary process last year," William T. Prewitt '78, the North House CHUL representative says. "It's so hard to get involved once things have gone beyond the drawing board stage." This year Ann B. Spence, assistant dean of the College, will probably bring up the 91 budget at the January CHUL meeting before it has been finally approved. Yet even this concession leaves problems unsolved. "Spence will bring up the budget in January this year, but that's exam time, and also the time when the new CHUL members are taking office, so it'll be hard to give it a close look," Paul Wang '78, the Currier House CHUL representative, says.
The difficulty members have faced in attempting to examine the budget highlights a broader problem CHUL members face: the shortage of time students have to develop an expertise on the issues. Most CHUL representatives are elected in their junior years, taking office at the beginning of the spring semester. Thus, with few exceptions, CHUL members do not serve for more than one year. The experience and knowledge they develop is lost, and new members must begin again to learn the ropes. This situation gives the administration a sharp advantage in discussions, many student members say. "The administrators deal with these questions on an nine-to-five basis. They can't help but know the issues better than we do," Megan Lesser '78, the Leverett House representative, says.
"The administrators are professionals. The Faculty budget is pretty much open to everyone. But when you get a hold of this big thing filled with numbers, it's not always immediately, intuitively obvious what it's all about. It would take a great deal of time and effort to learn enough to know how to influence the budget," Thomas Prendergast '78, Adams House CHUL representative says.
Members have bandied about various proposals to solve the continuity problem, a problem many CHUL members believe seriously affects the viability of the committee as a student forum. They all seek to stretch the time span during which each CHUL representative can view CHUL and understand the intricacies of decision-making. Already, CHUL has decided to up the dates of elections to the committee. New members will continue to take over in February, but the earlier election date will permit a longer transition period--a longer time during which representatives--elect can sit in on meetings of CHUL and its subcommittees, familiarizing themselves with facts and procedures.
Other aspects of CHUL's structure will be up for review this year. Members believe the body is too big and cumbersome, making spontaneous discussion difficult. "It's a big group atmosphere. You have the feeling that there isn't the interaction you could have with a smaller group," J. Woodland Hastings, Master of North House, says.
Because of the size of CHUL's membership--37 voting members and four permanent guests--the agenda for each meeting is set one week in advance by an executive committee composed of masters, students and administrators. The executive committee fixes precise lengths of time for discussion of each agenda topic. "Dean Rosovsky enforces those limits pretty strictly, but he really has to, if the discussion isn't going to break down into a free-for-all," Lesser said.
In response to members' complaints that the rigid schedule prohibits students from asking probing questions, CHUL this year will institute a 20 minute question-and-answer period, during which the discussion of any topic will be permitted.
But some members believe further structural reforms are necessary. Savage plans to push for changes that will simplify the parliamentary procedures governing the meetings. The proposed changes include:
* the opening up of CHUL executive committee meetings to CHUL representatives not on the committee These meetings have always been closed.
* the printing of detailed minutes of the meetings. The minutes currently only recount the general order of items discussed, making no attempt to record what each participant says. Savage believes representatives who do miss meetings should be able to find out what happened.
* changing the composition of the Committee.
One topic to be discussed in detail at this afternoon's meeting is the proposal to assign permanent House affiliations to students before the start of their freshman years. The discussion will include a report on the pros and cons of pre-assignment, and a briefing on a investigatory trip several CHUL members took to Yale last year to study the workings of the pre-assignment there. CHUL opinions on the viability of pre-assignment range from "some people think it's inevitable" (Paul W. Mulkerrin '78, Winthrop House CHUL representative) to Savage's view that "everyone knows that's not going anywhere."
Pre-assignment would involve no choice on the part of students. Before freshman year, each student would be randomly assigned to the House in which he would live after a freshman year in the Yard.
Advocates of the plan say the process of deciding which House to apply to causes unnecessary anguish for freshmen. Freshmen spend all to long a period of time sampling each House, and tend to create distinctions between the Houses that have no basis in reality, simply because the Houses must be ranked in some order, pre-assignment advocates say. Spence used similar reasoning to justify the replacement of the old housing lottery, where freshmen ranked all 12 Houses in order of preference, with last year's method, where freshman ranked only their top three choices.
Opponents of pre-assignment see it only as a method to disguise real differences between the Houses. "What we really should be doing, instead of pre-assignment, is making each House equal--not identical, but equal in quality. Then you wouldn't need pre-assignment. Pre-assignment is like saying 'If you're going to complain about the differences between Houses, we'll make it so that there's nothing you can complain about. But people will still see the differences,"' Prewitt says.
Another item sure to come up for discussion is dean of freshmen Henry C. Moses's ban on upperclassmen eating in the Union. Moses says he banned upperclassmen because of the Fox plan: with freshmen now living in Canaday, where upperclassmen lived last year. Moses projected an increase in the number of people from the Yard who would want to eat in the Union. Disputes over whether the ban has left the Union with excess capacity that might be filled by upperclassmen from the Quad and other distant Houses highlight this discussion.
An item placed on the agenda for today's meeting at the last minute concerns the hours of the Indoor Athletic Building (IAB). In the wake of student protests against the weekend closing of the IAB, administrators last week agreed to open the facility on weekends. Now administrators say the building will remain open on weekends so long as at least 20 students use it each weekend day. CHUL members will want accounting of the costs of weekend use, and will discuss other aspects of recreational athletics.
The bread-and-butter topics facing CHUL this year are topics students perceive will affect them directly. Students throughout the University are watching to see whether CHUL will deal effectively with such topics as the closing of the IAB to upperclassmen, the breakfast plan, and pre-assignment. Organizers of the two fledgling student advocacy groups are watching to see whether CHUL can reform itself and provide an adequate forum for the expression of undergraduate opinions. It remains to be seen whether CHUL members, trying out their wings, can secure a stronger position in the University decision-making process
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