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A Hundred Years of Solitude


By Susanna Rodell

MUCH AGONIZING has gone on recently about Radcliffe's place in the University and its relevance or irrelevance to undergraduate women. Many women here feel its presence in their lives only fleetingly; from time to time they are invited to parties at the President's house or to functions sponsored by the alumnae; asked where they go to school, they say, "Harvard." Radcliffe is perceived as powerless and timid in the defense of women's issues. Unfortunately, the confusions surrounding Radcliffe's complicated and shifting position with Harvard have obscured many of the real issues, and made it extremely difficult for Radcliffe to function as an effective focus for a community of undergraduate women.

The concept of women's education has drastically changed in the last decade. Radcliffe's impressive list of prominent alumnae notwithstanding, the college has not been perceived, over most of its history, as a route to power in the same sense that Harvard has. This is not surprising. Neither have Smith or Wellesley. Although some maverick women graduating from these institutions have become leaders, they have been far outnumbered by their classmates who became educated homemakers. With the general trend in the '70s shifting to more equal access to power, money and prestige for women, their access to education has widened considerably; hence the move toward equal access at Harvard, and the move to accept women at other previously all-male Ivy League schools.

In this shift, schools such as Yale and Princeton had an advantage over Harvard; their new crop of ambitious young women soon become alumnae, grateful for their entree into the elites of business or the professions. Presumably as good alums they share their fortunes with their alma mater.

The Picture is more complicated at Harvard. Women will soon constitute close to 50 percent of the undergraduate student body. If those women were to perceive themselves as Radcliffe students, then when they have their turn at wealth and power, that wealth and power would accrue not to Harvard, but to Radcliffe. However, to the extent that wealth is power, Radcliffe, compared to Harvard, is indeed powerless. A $36 million endowment is not much compared to one worth $1 billion. And the balance of power in the U.S. (or in the world) is not about to shift so drastically that women will very soon be earning income and contributing to colleges and universities on a par with men. Still, the writing on the wall remains. If present and future Radcliffe students identify themselves with Radcliffe, it means a loss for Harvard and a gain for Radcliffe. In that sense, it is to Harvard's advantage to play down Radcliffe.

FOR MANY undergraduate women, the question of conflicting loyalities is very real. Some feel that whatever attachments they have to Radcliffe, they are mostly sentimental; having no clout. Radcliffe cannot be an effective representative of their interests. Harvard holds the clout, the purse-strings; therefore, their petitions must be addressed to Harvard.

But there is another question to be considered: that of the nature of the two institutions. Harvard, for all its power(or maybe because of it), does not have a very good record of responsiveness to student concerns. Radcliffe students who feel that they would fare better as full and "legitimate" members of Harvard College would do well to take account of the efforts of their male counterparts to affect the decision-making process at Harvard.

Try to imagine Derek Bok holding open office hours two days a week. (Matina Horner does.)Or the fate of a group of Harvard students wishing to address a meeting of the Harvard Board of Trustees. (Radcliffe's trustee meetings are open to students, who may address them on any matter they choose.) Radcliffe's organizational style makes Harvard's look positively paranoid: Clearly, the presence within the University of such an accessible institution should only be abandoned with some forethought.

There are two crucial questions. Will Radcliffe students take advantage of its accessibility? Having listened, will Radcliffe take stands on behalf of its constituency? These two questions are intertwined. Radcliffe cannot be held accountable to students who feel no loyalty to it. Radcliffe cannot take stands on issues unless students communicate their concerns.

An example is the women's studies question. Women's Studies is often cited as an issue where Radcliffe should be taking a stand. Yet the students who have been interested in women's studies have concentrated their efforts on the Harvard administration. The present Committee on Women's Studies, appointed by Dean Rosovsky, contains no one from the Radcliffe administration, and the students who have been working with it have not objected to this omission. Radcliffe has no academic structure parallel to Harvard's to ensure its representation on such faculty committees. How, then, is it to fulfill its role as "advocate for women's concerns"? With Harvard's male dominated faculty, there is always a danger that key women's voices will be excluded on admulierem grounds.

Work-study programs is another area where Radcliffe has been perceived as derelict in its duties toward women students. As separate institutions, Harvard and Radcliffe must apply separately for federal work-study money, and this source of college student financial aid can be very erratic. At times Radcliffe students have had a proportionately larger share of work-study money than Harvard men. Last year, when women complained of unequal work-study budgets, Radcliffe's administrative dean, Burton Wolfman, found jobs for all women who had missed out on work-study but who would have qualified had they been Harvard students. Yet what is remembered is the original inequity, and not Radcliffe's solution.

CLEARLY, IF Radcliffe is to survive, it will take a strong mutual commitment. Women undergraduates will have to stop looking to Harvard as a Daddy who can make everything right, and begin to take advantage of Radcliffe's accessibility and its not inconsiderable resources. The Radcliffe administration, in turn, will have to gain the students' confidence by taking stands on their behalf. With some solidarity, Radcliffe could give pompous old Harvard what it needs--a good pinch in the ass. And 50 years and a few more million dollars from now, perhaps it can begin to assume what all women in this University would so dearly love to see--a partnership on equal terms.

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