Harvard: Behind Closed Doors


THE COMMITTEE ON Undergraduate Education (CUE) met last week, and once again, reporters were not allowed to attend. To find out what mysterious doings were afoot behind the closed doors, a Crimson reporter telephoned Glen W. Bowersock '57, chairman of CUE, after the meeting had adjourned. Unfortunately, Bowersock revealed little about what happened at the meeting. Not only had the meeting itself been off the record, but the material discussed was strictly confidential, Bowersock explained apologetically. Bowersock said that the student members of the CUE had an "animate debate" over the new core curriculum report, but he said nothing more.

Toward the end of the telephone conversation, the reporter asked Bowersock what rationale justified all the secrecy. The conversation went roughly along these lines:

Reporter: Why can't the press attend CUE meetings?

Bowersock: Because they're confidential.

Reporter: Why are they confidential?


Bowersock: Because we discuss issues that we don't want to be made public.

Reporter: Well why don't you want them to be made public?

Bowersock: Because we don't want people discussing them.

Reporter: Well why don't you want people discussing them?

Bowersock: Because they're confidential.

Harvard professors, students and administrators--like most Americans--guard their privacy with a vengeance. Privacy has become something akin to an inalienable right for all individuals that no one else has the prerogative to take away. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with private groups and individuals exercising the privilege to shut their doors and conduct their affairs out of the public gaze. The critical question is, however, what constitutes a "private" group. When Harvard professors, administrators and students form a group to study undergraduate education--one of the few student-faculty committees supposed to provide students with a modicum of influence in this university--should this group then be considered a "private" group with the right to conduct its meetings in secret? After all, students and their parents pay over $7000 a year to Harvard University. Should not this expenditure entitle them to the right to know just what the CUE is doing? Many persons will argue that the CUE and the other student-faculty committees are inadequate. Surely, this accusation is tenable so long as many of their meetings remain off the record.

THE ARGUMENTS THAT the members of Harvard's power elite offer to justify secrecy bear a remarkable similarity to those arguments proffered by politicians who tried to keep legislative committee meetings closed to the public. But just as American taxpayers have demanded the right to know how their taxes are being spent, so Harvard students and their parents should have some knowledge about where their money is going. CUE meetings should not be closed to reporters on campus newspapers.

The results of a recent poll sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Constitutional Convention confirmed not only that Harvard students are dissatisfied with student government at Harvard, but that strong student sympathies on University issues were quite scarce. One reason that apathy prospers on this campus lies in the clandestine way many decisions are made at Harvard. Consider the core curriculum proposals, for instance. Right now the members of two of the five groups which supposedly constitute student government at Harvard are feverishly wrangling over a new 35-page report that everyone knows contains the key to the fate of general education. Although the dedicated student members of the CUE and the Educational Research Group (ERG) surely have only the interests of their fellow students at heart, these representatives will find it somewhat difficult to gauge opinions that do not exist. The lack of such opinions can be largely attributed to the fact that campus reporters are barred from the CUE and the ERG meetings, and that the core curriculum report remains hidden from public sight. Decisions are being made, major issues are being discussed, but only a handful of people can presently participate.

A HANDFUL OF CUE and ERG members cannot inform all the students; that is why communities have newspapers. It does not matter how many notices these student representatives tack on bulletin boards or how well-organized their publicity sub-committees are organized. Exclusion of the media is a sly and subtle maneuver that masks the real intent behind a ruse--the intent to exclude students from substantive participation in decision-making at Harvard.

Many could argue convincingly that students and their parents have no business trying to influence decisions at Harvard. Someone with this point of view could well see Harvard as a colossal business corporation that produces a commodity for market consumption--an education, a label, opportunities for higher incomes and greater status. The consumers--students and their parents--can either purchase Harvard's expensive product or choose another. A person with this perspective would also probably favor elite rule over democratic rule, believing students and parents too incompetent to actually deserve any voice in the how's and why's of educating students.

But there are many individuals here who perhaps naively believe that Harvard is a community of intelligent adults, all interested in improving the quality of education here and that all members of the Harvard community should exert some influence on such a crucial decision as a revision of general education. No one thinks each freshman should have as much sway as Dean Rosovsky, but there are many who resent their total exclusion, or at least being totally uninformed about what is going on.

THE APATHY OF THE STUDENTS at Harvard seems to suit many professors and administrators just fine. Even though the core curriculum issue cannot compare to the Vietnam war, many Harvard officials still remember well the unsettling period when students became much too concerned about having a say in how Harvard conducts its affairs. The fear of aroused students perhaps still lingers. No one likes to share power, especially the administrators of an elite university. Besides, what the students don't know well, won't hurt them.