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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Abolish CRR

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

IN THE FALL of 1976, the New York Times declared the 60's officially over: Harvard's freshman class of 1980 had broken the student boycott of the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR). Last week, the class of 1982 rectified that mistake when the 15-member panel selected to choose next year's freshman members refused to nominate any representatives.

In so doing, they emphasized the failure of the two-year-old student attempt to reform from within the College's disciplinary body. The Faculty Council's decision, to reject proposals establishing an appeals board and banning hearsay evidence from CRR hearings vitiates the entire reform effort, leaving only cosmetic improvements in the structure and procedure of the committee which were approved last week.

The approved reforms change the faculty-student ratio on the committee from 8-6 to 7-6, bar lawyers from the hearings, and permit the release of transcripts of the proceedings if all parties agree. Even these reforms are a mixed blessing at best. Barring lawyers from the hearings, for example, weights the scales even more heavily in favor of the administration, as it can still draw on Harvard's legal staff--including General Counsel Danial Steiner '54--for everything from investigating initial charges to preparing a brief and specific question for the administrator handling the case in the CRR. Students could be left to face the committee unaided by any such expert counsel.

By rejecting substantive reform, the Faculty Council has chosen to preserve the CRR's essentially rigged bias. The committee, descendant of those established in the wake of the 1969 riots that were explicitly designed to control student dissent, retains procedures that stack the deck against any defendant.

The admissability of hearsay evidence in CRR hearings forms the greatest potential barrier to a fair hearing. Students left with no defense in the face of evidence that can now be produced without any satisfactory method of establishing its truth. Furthermore. The Faculty Council's action preserves an appeals system which only goes right back to the CRR.

This system of questionable equity has been defended on the grounds that the informality of CRR hearings preserves the idea of Harvard as a family, with the CRR simply the expressing parental discipline. The Faculty Council's reforms obscure but cannot alter the essentially adversary nature of the committee, forcing students to view the benevolent claims of the administration with some trepidation. The committee as it now stands is expressly constituted to control certain avenues of undergraduate political action--it imposes no restrictions on the rest of the Harvard community. Any student hauled before the committee must be forgiven when he sees only a prosecutor in the form of the administrator presenting the case against him.

As long as the CRR is designed as a political disciplinary committee no amount of reform will repair its basic flaw. There is no place in an academic community for an institution designed to control expression. Until the Faculty repudiates the very concept of such an institution, no student should break the reinstated boycott.

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