THE DELEGATES to the Harvard-Radcliffe Constitutional Convention should be commended for their acute sense of the lack of any organized student voice, influence, or power in how Harvard is run. Our recent experiences with the Core Curriculum, in which the opposition of 65 per cent of the student body was ignored, and with Harvard's contribution to apartheid, in which the united petition of over 3000 students was ignored, expose the costs of having no leverage over the University.
The major problem with the proposed Constitution is that it provides for no such leverage. At best, the student assembly would function as a student adviser to the Harvard administration, but it is hardly clear that the convention's brainchild would even do that efficiently.
The Constitution's lack of effectiveness is obvious on two levels. First, as far as University-wide policy is concerned, the proposed Student Assembly would be a very loosely-organized forum and any consensus it reaches would have about as much effect on Harvard as that of a debating society. That is, it will simply create more resolutions and pretitions that Harvard will ignore.
The second level is the extensive decision-making that takes place in Harvard's relatively autonomous sub-units, such as departments and Houses. Despite the convention's vaunted claims of decentralized government, the only organization it sets up is a College-wide assembly to serve as a forum for student issues.
In this structure there is no provision for affecting policy-making in Harvard's smaller fiefdoms. Indeed, by the time grassroots student activism filters up the Assembly by way of elected representatives or students referenda, is fussed over in that deliberative body, and passed back down, any impetus for change will, likely as not, have dissipated.
The six months of student activism that went into the Constitution is already being dissipated by the conflict over its minority representation clause, which many people have all "inherently antidemocratic." But that is not the real issue here. That clause should not be the determining factor in anyone's vote.
The crucial issue is the Constitution's split between structure and function. The Constitution's structure only facilitates debate. The function needed from a College-wide organization is that of applying pressure on Harvard to take action students want. That function is lacking in the proposed Constitution. We do not need an organizational structure that sees students as "consumers of Harvard's services." We need a student union that recognizes the structural disadvantages of students in Harvard's power system, and we need to organize and change that system.
Organizing a Harvard-Radcliffe student union would be a much tougher job than writing a document to establish a junior Congress, but if we really want to end our helpless acquiescence to Harvard's policies, the process starts in our own departments and in our own Houses.
Creating yet another inherently powerless student voice is not the answer; Harvard hears only what it wants to hear. The centralization of impotence does not justify a vote in its favor. What is needed is an organization prepared and empowered to deal with Harvard on its own terms.