Student Government At Crossroads

Committee Considers Critical Changes in Assembly's Powers

In 1981, Harvard students will vote on a new plan for student government for the third time in little more than a decade. The last official government here--the Harvard Undergraduate Council (HUC)--splintered during the campus protests of the late 1960s and finally dissolved itself in 1969. Undergraduates rejected a proposal to reestablish a more powerful version of HUC in 1970, leaving Harvard without a central undergraduate government until the formation of the Student Assembly four years ago. The assembly, however has no formal powers, no funding from the University, and only "provisional" recognition by the Faculty.

During the past semester, the Dowling Committee--an ad hoc student-Faculty committee named after its chairman, John E. Dowling, professor of Biology--has met bi-monthly to consider the role of the assembly and possibilities for strengthening student government. The committee is now preparing to write its initial report; it will probably propose a plan that would incorporate the assembly into the mainstream of University decision-making and possibly would provide the group with a $60,000 annual budget. Students, Faculty and the Corporation would all have to approve such a plan--by voting on it this spring or next fall--before it could take effect.

Differing Views

Obtaining that approval will be difficult, however, because students, Faculty members and administrators have different views of the Dowling Committee's purpose. Students are hoping to create a government that will not only provide new services, such as sponsoring rock concerts and funding undergraduate organizations, but also have real influence in University decisions on issues such as tenuring, investments, security and meal plans. Faculty administrators, on the other hand, have shown a willingness to provide funding for student groups and to rearrange the assembly to increase its efficiency--but they are adamantly opposed to allocating any real power to undergraduates.

When the four students on the Dowling Committee raised the issue of student government autonomy, they received blunt answers from three Faculty members and one administrator on the committee: student government will "ultimately," "inevitably," and "absolutely" remain "advisory." And when students on the committee suggested abolishing the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities and substituting a student judicial board, Dowling told them that disciplinary matters are "beyond the purview" of the committee. This week two student members of the committee reacted strongly to these proclamations by advising the current assembly to oppose the committee's final recommendations if they do not include "genuine power and influence" for the new government.


One of the most controversial of the Dowling Committee's likely proposals is a $60,000 budget for student government that would be collected from a $10 addition to all undergraduate term bills. The government would disperse approximately $35,000 of those funds to other student organizations; $20,000 would pay for the assembly's own functions, including regular polling of students, mass mailings, a newsletter, office expenses and a part-time secretary; and $5000 would pay for rock concerts, dances and other campus-wide social events.

The committee's investigation into governance at other major universites, which disclosed that Harvard is probably the only major American college that does not have a student activities fee and that does not fund its student parliament, has been a prime influence in the budget proposal. Activities charges range from $10 for four years at Dartmouth to $500 per student per year at the University of Pennsylvania. Almost all colleges allocate all or part of their activities fee to student government; and, in general, the richer the government, the more successful it is. The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), for example, receives approximately $75,000 annually from the University and raises an additional $35,000 by selling lecture notes, t-shirts, movie tickets and travel packages. A recent poll of Stanford students showed a high degree of "respect" for ASSU's management of finances.

Although they agree that Harvard should no longer remain a pariah in regard to student government, members of the Dowling Committee disagree on the purpose of student funding and the amount needed. Archie C. Epps III, dean of students and a member of the committee, has urged repeatedly that the University's policy remain "each tub on its own bottom"--undergraduate organizations should raise their own funds and receive subsidies only to get started. But Natasha Pearl '82, another committee member, argues that Third World organizations and women's groups have few alumni to call on for funds, and therefore may need annual subsidies to survive. Pearl also believes that $60,000 is "far too low," although she may "settle" for it. Other members of the committee say that $60,000 "sounds like a lot" and that neither students nor the Corporation would be likely to approve a higher figure.

None of the committee members has voiced any fears that the student government would not spend the $60,000 or even allocate it badly. Many of Harvard's 160 official student organizations, particularly minority groups and new publications, are in desparate need of funds. The University now subsidizes only four groups: the Harvard Dramatic Club, Crimson Key (only for services during freshman week), Room 13, and an "Efficacy Seminar" on minority students. In addition, the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) receives several thousand dollars annually from a $5 charge on all women's term bills, dispersing, on the average, grants of $400 to $500--but only to about one-tenth of student groups. The assembly itself has had difficulty raising money; its total reserves are now less than $200, which is not enough to pay for a comprehensive poll or any campus-wide social event.

If the $10 charge suggested by the Dowling Committee is implemented, it may be refundable on request like the current RUS charge, although Joseph F. McDonough '81, a committee member, has argued strenuously that it should be mandatory because "student government is as necessary as heating rooms." Nancy Northrop '82, a third student on the committee, says the charge should be optional so that "if students are dissatisfied with the new assembly they can show it by taking their money back." Other members of the committee say making the charge optional will increase chances of approval by the Corporation, which has denied requests for term bill additions in the past.

Two other controversial recommendations that the Dowling Committee seems prepared to make are the elimination--at least in name--of the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) and the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL) and the reshuffling of the assembly's current electoral system. After listening to reports on CUE and CHUL last spring, the committee decided that while CHUL is too large and handles too many issues, CUE is small enough to be very effective. Thus, the most recent Dowling proposal would divide the current duties of CHUL between two committees, but would have an academics committee with essentially the same responsibilities as CUE. The student members on each of these new committees would also be members of the new assembly.

The current Student Assembly is aportioned according to the population of each House and section of the Yard--one delegate for every 75 students. Under the committee's proposal five students from every House and ten from the freshman Yard would serve as student government representatives. Members of the committee disagree on whether delegates should be elected to particular committees of the assembly, all of which would meet together twice a month, or to the assembly at large, allowing individual delegates to choose committee berths.

The new government would have five standing committees: social, academics, residential, student services, and executive. If delegates were elected directly to particular committees, each House would have only one delegate on each committee. If delegates were allowed to choose their berths after election, a House might have several delegates on one committee and none on another--unless a proviso to the contrary were attached to election rules. Each committee would have about 15 members, and the entire structure would include 76 delegates, including six voting minority representatives (in the current assembly, the minority delegates are from the Asian American Association, the Black Students Association, the Native American Students, LaOrganizacion, RUS and Raza.)

*The academics committee would choose five of its members to meet regularly with five Faculty members in a committee replacing CUE.

*The residential and student services committees would also each elect five members to meet regularly with Faculty in two committees replacing CHUL.