A peculiar thing happened last Sunday afternoon. Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, belatedly discovered that 2300 students were about to descend on Boston-Boston, for a dance sponsered by the Student Assembly.
In phone calls Sunday to two of the party's organizers, a perturbed Epps expressed fears that the Student Assembly improperly used the Harvard-Radcliffe name to promote the dance. Epps also said that a party of this size should probably fall under his jurisdiction.
In retrospect, it is apparent that Epps had not seen an invitation--which did not mention the Harvard-Radcliffe name. Student Assembly officials are all too well aware that unauthorized use the school name could result in disciplinary action against them; they are careful to follow University rules as they understand them. But, as the Boston-Boston episode makes clear, no one quite knows what rules apply in this nebulous relationship between the assembly and the University.
Epps raised specific questions about the disco dance, and cited equally specific University rules. For instance, Harvard regulations prohibit a group from using the school name to promote a commercial venture. Last minute negotiations Sunday assuaged Epps' fears about student safety at a large and, in his eyes, potentially rowdy event. A meeting between Epps and party organizers this week straightened out many similar bureaucratic tangles.
THESE, HOWEVER, were ad hoc solutions. Student Assembly leaders are still unable to lead, not knowing which of their actions and activities the University will permit. Right now, the assembly can't show a film under its own auspices, put up a poster, or even reserve a room for a meeting without circumventing normal University procedures.
The Student Assembly has not sought recognition as a group, choosing to meet under assumed names in various University buildings. Therefore, in the eyes of the University, it is not a formal undergraduate organization. So when a group of Harvard and Radcliffe students decided to give a big party for the college last Sunday night, it was a private affair. The hosts printed invitations and used the Centrex telephone directory as its guest list. Maybe the University does not want its mail boxes or its Centrex directory used for this purpose, but this does not solve the basic issue. There was a private party at Boston-Boston, albeit a large one, and the University attempted to say that it had jurisdiction.
Granted, the University has probably not embarked on a new policy of watch-dogging all parties given by undergraduates. Prior to the Student Assembly dance there were large student-sponsored parties at Boston-Boston and it is likely that there will be more in the future, presumably without University interference.
In a sense, Epps was also a victim of the Student Assembly's schizophrenia. When the dean asked one of the dance's organizers Sunday why she hadn't informed him of the event, she said that she thought he'd disapprove, implying that the assembly is hesitant to plan major activities when Epps disapproves. A second organizer, however, told Epps the assembly had simply never thought to ask permission. This confusion is perhaps inevitable. In the months since the first elections, the assembly has not been able to decide what its relationship to the University is or should be. The administration, on the other hand, has given the group tacit recognition, not demanding that the organization seek official approval from the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL) and freeing it from other red tape. In this way, the Student Assembly has been afforded many of the benefits of recognition without the disadvantages.
However beneficial this relationship has been in the short run, the administrations has shown signs that it will not allow the situation to persist. Though there were no incidents at Boston-Boston, and most people have commented favorably on the affair, the University has asked the Student Assembly to notify it of any future large-scale activities. In its own way, the administration is starting to define the Student Assembly's role, and will continue to do so unless the assembly attempts its own definition during its second term. Perhaps the assembly should seek recognition from CHUL, or request a re-evaluation of undergraduate representation at Harvard. Only through such a course can the assembly continue to plan activities that are important to Harvard College.