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Out of the Closet, Into the Packet


By Robert O. Boorstin

THERE SAT the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University, looking as helpless as Kojak without his Tootsie Pop. On his left, the Dean of Students of Harvard College, as forlorn as Charlie without his Angels. And above both of them towered the Dean of Harvard College, an elongated J.R. who'd just spent $2.5 million digging a dry well.

The were mighty confused in the Faculty Room on Monday. Not one among them--the entire membership of the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL), about 50 interested onlookers, and even the paintings of 40 assorted onetime Faculty greats--knew what Robert (of the Rules) had to say about whether one first considers a substitute motion--that wasn't really a motion at all--or whether it had to be the main motion or whether one had to consider the original motion first.

Perplexed? So were they, until someone disappeared and emerged moments later with what had to be the unabridged edition of the parliamentary rules. Then the Dean of Students and the Dean of the College put their heads together, and the Dean of the College did an Evelyn Wood job on the "paragraphs pertaining" and announced that the substitute motion should be considered first.

That substitute motion, by the way, replaced one proposing that the Gay Students Association (GSA) be allowed to insert its pamphlet, entitled "What You Should Know About Sex. . . Between Members of the Same," into next semester's student registration packet. A member of CHUL brought it before the committee at the request of the GSA, which several weeks ago had asked Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III for permission to include the pamphlet in February's packets. Epps had fished around for a little while before finding a rule saying that, despite past "mistakes" and "exceptions," student organizations may not insert things in registration packets. So the GSA decided to take on the Harvard bureaucracy.

The bureaucracy listened to Gaye Williams, president of the Radcliffe Lesbians Association, insist that "we're not trying to recruit students, we're trying to educate them." Then they listened to the 50 students who had come to the meeting applaud what Williams said. Then they listened to a somber Dean Rosovsky say that "it's not in the tradition of this committee to have applause or demonstrations of this kind."

The committee went back to work. And one of its members came up with the suggestion--otherwise known as the substitute motion--that the College establish a second registration packet into which all student groups could stuff their materials. That seemed like a good idea to everyone but the GSA; Dean Fox told the committee, "I certainly can see no obstacle to that. . ." (in translation, "Yes."), and somebody made a motion. The bureaucracy prevailed upon Robert's Rules, CHUL voted on the motion and--poof--the second packet existed. The problem was gone.

GSA MEMBERS, it turns out, made their biggest mistake when they decided to raise the issue with Epps. If they had been smart--like the folks over at Phillips Brooks House (PBH) were at the beginning of the year--they would have showed up in Holyoke Center during intercession, pamphlets in hand, and stuffed the envelopes. That, after all, is what PBH did, as Margaret E. Law, registrar of the College, remembers. Somebody in Law's office "discovered them stuffing their pamphlets into the packets one day," Law says, and, well, PBH had stuffed too many envelopes to ask them to stop.

A cloud of confusion (which seems to be the muse in this saga) still hovers over the PBH case--and the cases of the Student Assembly, Women's Clearinghouse, Room 13, Radcliffe Choral Society, and various other groups that have managed to get materials into the packets at one time or another. Law, in her memo to Fox about the problem, epitomizes the atmosphere. "For example," she wrote, "I accepted the Student Assembly this fall because I was told it had been authorized by Dean Epps. (My information was apprently incorrect.)"

The one thing that both Epps and Law are not confused about is the existence of the rule forbidding student groups to stuff pamplets into registration packets. Asked to produce a written copy of the rule, Epps directs one to the registrar's office, where Law says that the rule is part of aninternal memo. She refuses to release it in written or verbal form.

In all the talk about motions and rules, the key issue had been lost. Why did Epps decide to review the policy following the GSA request? "The difference here," he says, "is that other groups have gone to the registrar. The association raised it with me."

The gay students don't buy this explanation. Given what can at best be called an inconsisten policy and given past practice, the GSA calls his action "blatant discrimination." Whatever Epps' justification, his decision looks like discrimination. Apparently, administrators would rather face this charge at a CHUL meeting than allow gay students to stuff their pamphlet into registration packets.

When you're trying to raise $250 million, after all, you don't do anything that might concern the parents or alumni. Appearing to condone or advocate gay lifestyles is one of those things. It's a different case, administrators say, when you're talking about religion. The United Ministry is an official group which for years has been inserting a pamphlet that, as its former director say, introduces students to the personnel and the programs of the United Ministry." And the American Repertory Theater (ART) is different too. Both Epps, who explains the overlap between ART and the official Loeb Drama Center, and Law agree they would allow ART to stuff its promotional pamphlets into the packets. (There is, of course, confusion over whether this has happened in the past).

The GSA pamphlet provides information about homosexuality just as the United Ministry pamphlet provides information about religious groups. And if Harvard would let ART--in actuality, an independent corporation and not an official Harvard group--get its money-making message to the students, why not the GSA, whose problems in reaching students are acute.

While a significant number of students might ignore the GSA pamphlet if it were included in a second, unofficial packet, no one will leave the official envelope sealed. And since the GSA wants to answer the questions and alleviate the anxieties of all students--not just homosexuals--they must reach as many people as possible. It's not as if the truly "official" registration material that addresses homosexuality--little more than one paragraph in the University Health Services handbook--overwhelms students with information.

THE GSA is only asking the administration to "advocate tolerance and diversity," as Robert J. Kiely, master of Adams House, said at the CHUL meeting. Epps, Law, et al. can still do that by allowing the GSA to insert its pamphlet into the official packets; CHUL is technically an advisory body--the administrators have the final say. But it seems that University Hall is content to overlook its prerogative; unfortunately, the bureaucracy probably won't bother to look it up in the rules.

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