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THE RECENT FIASCO surrounding the appointment of Harvard's next athletic director illustrates all too well the University's discouraging failure to base its decisions on the interests of the entire Harvard community. An unforgivable lack of communication between students and administration, coupled with the disturbing influence of a number of wealthy alumni, have given rise to vicious infighting that now seems to be stalling the selection of any qualified candidates for the post. Meanwhile, with the impending retirement of Robert B. Watson '37, the current athletic director, there is no one left at 60 Boylston Street to plan for the upcoming year of Harvard-Radcliffe athletics.
The current shambles stems from two equally serious problems. First, the failure of the administration's designated search committee to weigh carefully the interests of sports-minded undergraduates has understandably offended many students. On the surface the committee--composed mainly of representatives of the Business and Law School faculties and administrations--seemed likely to choose a candidate who would give greater emphasis to the University's intramural program, with an eye toward opening more facilities for graduate students and faculty. While committee members maintain their goal has been only to ensure a proper balance between intramural and intercollegiate athletics, their failure to make this intention clear to interested students and alumni is both unfortunate and disturbing.
Yet even the failure of the committee to reflect student interest cannot justify the ruthless manner in which a group of wealthy alumni subsequently chose to override the committee's wishes. When it became known that the committee planned to select Robert Peck, athletic director at Williams College, several big contributors to the University athletic program told members of the administration they would not tolerate the move. Peck, who had helped make Williams a small-college athletic power while still designing the school's excellent intramural program, was certainly a desirable candidate. But he did not suit the taste of many of Harvard's biggest athletic boosters. For his admirable commitment to maintaining "the proper role of athletics in a liberal education" and his involvement in punishing high-school recruiting violations, Peck drew criticism from alumni dedicated to the proposition of big-time athletics. The big money spoke louder than the committee, and an embarassed and angry Peck was forced to withdraw. Now the committee appears to be involved in a major fracas with these same alumni interests and other members of the administration, and it is difficult to tell when a new director might ever find his or her way to 60 Boylston Street.
The issue is not who should be named athletic director--certainly there are many qualified candidates, both inside Harvard and from outside the University, who would be able to blend a devotion to intercollegiate athletics with a strong intramural program. The question is instead a deeper one: who is to make the final decision? Surely, students and athletes, whose program it is, should have a say. And surely, interested alumni should also make their wishes known, for they have traditionally helped to support Harvard athletics. But financial support does not justify the use of heavy-handed pressure to railroad through a candidate. No single interest--no matter how enthusiastic or wealthy--should own the Harvard athletic program. Harvard's tradition is supposedly one of "athletics for all." The sooner all the parties involved in the current squabble realize that, and start playing by the rules of the game, the better for us all.
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