The Referenda


To the Editors of The Crimson:

The Jull between the close of balloting on the recent student referendums and the reporting of results seems an appropriate time to comment on the controversy these referenda engendered. As members of the Radcliffe-Harvard Peace Alliance, the primary sponsor of the question on the arms race and interventionism, we were disappointed by several aspects of the Undergraduate Council's handing and The Crimson, reporting of the referendum. We do want to begin, however, by thanking all those Council members who collected ballots and those students who voted.

Our referendum generated a great deal of debate as to whether running such a referendum was an appropriate Council activity. Some argued that giving Harvard students an opportunity to make known their views on the nuclear arms race and interventionary foreign policy is inappropriate because these issues do not pertain directly and uniquely to the student council.

This view reflects a narrow conception of what is important to students. As people who have lived all our lives under the threat of nuclear annihilation, and as residents of a nation which spends a great deal of money and effort to prop up unpopular and democratic regimes around the world, we can hardly avoid being concerned with these issues. The claim that these issues are too complex for local or state referenda, or even for the average citizen to deal with at all, is simply a device to prevent Americans from using the most effective democratic institution available to them. This merely guarantees that the military, the defense industry and a handful of politicians will continue to exercise a preponderant and dangerous influence over American policy.

However, the more important issue involved here is responsibility. After referendum voting was completed, Council members might have decided that referenda on national issues were not worthwhile. But instead, a number of Council members prejudged the issue. They decided in advance that this referendum was an inappropriate Council activity, despite the fact that over 10 percent of the student body had indicated their desire for it. This decision influenced their behavior and their public pronouncements. Several Council members decided they would refuse to administer the referenda. Before and during the polling, Council members were quoted in The Crimson expensing their belief that the Council should not be holding this referendum. At no time during this controversy were the views of the Peace Alliance on this question reported. In fact, none of as were even contacted by The Crimson.


This whole debate focused attention away from discussion of the merits of bilateral reductions on nuclear weapons and an end to interventionism, where it belonged, onto the secondary issue of whether the Council should run the referendum. This situation was compounded by incomplete distribution of the student newsletter printed up for this referendum, in which the pro and con arguments were carefully presented. Although every student was supposed to receive a copy of this newsletter before the voting began, in several Houses they were left in stacks in the dining hall or House library. And no one in Dudley. House received one, because the Council twice voted down funds to mail them out to Dudley House residents.

We had hoped this referendum would be an occasion to present students with new information and to force them to make decision on these issues. Unfortunately, many students had to vote solely on the basis of what they read in The Crimson, which at no point discussed the issues of the arms race and interventionism.

Our disappointment stems from the regrettable irresponsibility demonstrated by those Council members who kicked up a fuss before the referendum even began, and, albeit to a lesser extent, from the naivete by The Crimson in failing to expose this as a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the real issue at hand--the need to halt the arms race and interventionism. Jeff Knopf '83, for   Radcliffe-Harvard Peace Alliance