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The PIRG 'Check-off'



To the Editors of The Crimson:

I have lately become aware of a movement by a student lobby group, the Public Interest Research Group, to establish a chapter at Harvard through a petition drive. As I understand it, one aim of the drive is to procure a student majority 'mandate' to implement a 'negative checkoff' funding mechanism for the organization through each student's University term bill.

What little I know of the PIRG's ultimate goals, I find commendable; however, I would like to voice my concern about the proposed funding mechanism. A recent letter to The Crimson by proponents of the organization (Nov. 4) stated that "the real point is a democratic principle: if a majority of students want a checkoff on their term bill for PIRG or any other organization, that alone is sufficient cause for instituting it." Whereas I would be swayed by this argument if the issue were a 'positive checkoff', i.e., an option on the term bill whereby each student may elect to check a space indicating his support for PIRG and adding the due, I challenge a system whereby a so-inclined student must actively indicate his non-support of the organization.

At the risk of sounding trivial, I confess that I vaguely feel an infringement of my rights as an individual student. When enrolling at Harvard, I was not aware that I was signing up for a book or record club. If, in a rush, I neglect to waive my induction into the ranks of PIRG supporters, I am nevertheless penalized. I freely admit that such a scenario may border on the absurd; yet, I would like to raise the following point for discussion. The authors of the previously quoted article wrote that "...a failure to respond to the expressed preference of the an arrogant denial of students' rights." In the case of a negative check-off, I beg to differ--I find it in principle oppressive for a majority to require a specific response on the part of a minority in the name of free choice when the same result can be reached without imposing this burden.

I anticipate that this stance may be labeled pedantic or trivial; in any case, a simple solution would be to push for a positive check-off status. I would eagerly support such a drive, and may even elect to pay the due. If, on the other hand, free choice is not the sole issue, then the burden rests with the proponents of PIRG to show cause as to why they favor imposing a burden, however slight, and even on a hypothetical minority, who elect not to support the organization.

I have heard that other services within the University community already have a negative checkoff status, for example the abortion premium on University health insurance. I have heard that we don't even have a choice in supporting, say the Institute of Politics. Perhaps those analogies can be challenged; but my reply here is that past 'infringements' do not justify future ones.

Let me reiterate that I am sympathetic with the causes which PIRG espouse. I suppose that it a majority expresses the desire to institute the plan, I will still have a choice; but the aim of this letter is that students become aware of trivial objections such as mine before expressing their opinion on the petition as it now stands. Thomas C. Seoh '78

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