JUST WHEN Harvard's new student government was beginning to look like a change for the better, two of its crucial student-faculty committees recently took giant steps backwards.
The decisions by the new committees on Housing and College Life to shut their doors to interested observers and reporters violate the principles of open, democratic government. They close students off from the issues that most directly concern them and that seem certain to loom as major in the coming months. Proposals to change policies on storage, renovations, House assignments and off-campus living all would ostensibly originate in the closed Committee on Housing, for instance.
Members of the two bodies say they fear committee meetings would not prove workable and uninhibited if students and campus press representatives attended. "It's hard to make free discussion when the eyes of the world are upon you," explained Patricia N. Limerick, assistant professor of History and a member of the College Life Committee.
But such explanations ring Hollow. Already most campus policies of any import are made behind closed doors--by secretive, unaccountable bodies like the Corporation and the Faculty Council. Housing policies, too, have in practice been quietly settled upon by assistant dean Thomas A. Dingman '67 and others' inconsiderate University Hall officials. That undergraduates have been shut out of much decision-making on student life issues is as good a reason as any why the renovations planned for this summer were executed so slowly and clumsily, why students are still assigned to North House "sink closets" in the spring, and why grave inequities linger between River and Quad housing accomodations.
The new Undergraduate Council, strictly speaking, is not to blame for the sealed meetings. The decision to keep committee deliberations under wraps was made independently by each body. Since the bodies are partially composed of faculty members, the council has no authority to overrule them.
But the council is to be commended for demanding the immediate opening of the sessions, as it did last night; failing to do so would have endangered its own tenuous legitimacy. Council Chairman Michael G. Colantuono '83 said recently that "If the committees cannot meet in public, I think the council should take whatever means necessary to address the situation, up to and including withdrawal of our delegates." Colantuono is, of course, correct, and he and the council's other delegates should boycott subsequent meetings of the student faculty committees if efforts at opening the sessions fail. Harvard's first student government with a shot at legitimacy needs accountability as its lifeblood.