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Auditions for the Assembly

By Alan Cooperman

The College's administrative structure is up for review this fall for the first time in more than a decade.

A student-Faculty committee chaired by John E. Dowling, professor of Biology and master of North House, will scrutinize College governance with an eye to strengthening student participation in decision-making. Students and Faculty members have widely different expectations of the review, which the Dowling Committee plans to present as a report to Dean Fox in February.

Several members of the Student Assembly, which requested the review last winter, say they want the committee to suggest dramatic changes that would allow undergraduates to participate in decisions on such controversial subjects as investments and tenuring.

Moreover, the assembly members hope the review will propose an official position within the structure of College governance for the assembly, which currently has "provisional recognition" from the University but no formal powers.

On the other hand, Faculty members and administrators, including Fox, say they expect the review to focus on the effectiveness of the current system of student-Faculty committees--not to propose a far-reaching reorganization of College governance.

The current structure of College governance dates from 1969, when a Faculty committee chaired by the late Merle Fainsod, Pforzheimer University Professor, suggested the establishment of the Faculty Council and several joint, student-Faculty committees, including the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) and the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL).

The review this fall is "unlikely to make the kind of broad proposals for change that were made by the Fainsod Committee," Dowling says. "The times are very different. When the Fainsod Committee was established, the University was in a period of great disruption, and there was no student voice in College governance. Today, there is a great student voice, and my committee will probably just tinker with things, rather than suggest sweeping changes."

Natasha Pearl '82, an assembly delegate from Currier House and a member of the Dowling Committee, disagrees with Dowling. "I think we will make some very broad and significant changes," she says.

"We now realize that we need a unified student government for the same reasons the Faculty realized they needed a Faculty Council 11 years ago. We've got to have a strong student government to find out what student opinions are and to represent them before the Faculty and students." Pearl says. Conceding that many students are critical of the assembly, she maintains, "There may be some grumblings about the assembly now, but once we are accorded the larger role in decision-making that we deserve, we will prove our worth to students."

Fox, who appointed the Dowling Committee last year, says he will take "whatever findings and recommendations the committee eventually makes to the appropriate bodies, including the Faculty Council and the full Faculty if necessary." But Fox also says he sees "a big difference" between the Fainsod Committee, whose proposals required approval of the full Faculty, and the Dowling Committee. "The Fainsod Committee suggested there should be more student involvement in College decisions," he says, "but the Dowling Committee will be more concerned with the effectiveness of student involvement than with its volume. There is an awful lot of student consultation now. The question is: Can it be made more effective?"

Leslie A. Cornfeld '81, chairman of the assembly, says she thinks student involvement in College decisions could be made more effective by coordinating the efforts of CHUL, CUE and the assembly to eliminate duplication of work. Cornfeld also asserts, however, that "there are certain areas where the volume of student input has to be increased, particularly in academics and the promotion of professors at Harvard."

The chances of students commanding substantial influence in such sensitive areas as tenuring appear slim. Robert J. Kiely, master of Adams House and a member of the Dowling Committee, says that the committee will consider all areas of discontent that are brought to its attention, but that it is "unlikely" the committee would favor student participation in tenure decisions. Then again, Kiely won't rule out any possibility. "I can't say what we'll do. I hardly even know the other people on the committee."

Archie C. Epps III, dean of students and a member of the committee, agrees with Kiely that "it is too early to predict what recommendations we might make." Even the composition of the committee is not yet certain. One member, William J. Skocpol, associate professor of Physics, will be on leave this semester, and Fox has not yet appointed a replacement.

No proposals were made in the two preliminary meetings of the committee last spring, Epps says. One area that the committee is sure to examine this fall, he adds, is the possible role of the assembly in College governance. "The assembly is clearly looking for a larger role, but seems ambivalent about precisely what that role should be," Dowling says.

Pearl says she hopes the review "will place the assembly in a position of direct involvement in decision-making." The current problem, she observes, "is that when the assembly passes a resolution, it is in a complete vacuum--no one has to listen. We should be involved in the meetings where decisions are made, not just be stuck reacting to those decisions with resolutions."

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