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Glasnost at Harvard


By Jeffrey S. Nordhaus

THE SOVIET Union has gotten a lot of good press lately. It has opened a few satellite facilities to U.S. congressmen, allowed greater freedom of expression in the state-controlled press and is about to sign a landmark arms reduction agreement with the U.S. "Glasnost," or openness, now is a household word.

The Harvard Board of Overseers, which steadfastly refuses to meet with students, hasn't proven itself to be as progressive as the Soviet Politburo. But some members of the Harvard body have gotten a lot of ink with glasnosty sentiments of their own.

Unfortunately, those sentiments haven't amounted to much. Even when overseers give students the chance to have an impact on University governance, the undergraduate community's myopic preoccupation with divestment makes true openness impossible. Or, more accurately, the myopic preoccupation of student activists with divestment makes true openness impossible.

The few students who turned out for last weekend's meeting with two of the overseers elected last June on the Alumni Against Apartheid slate--Duke University Professor Peter Wood '64 and Consuela Washington--focussed their remarks almost exclusively on divestiture. While that issue is a pressing one, its tendency to eclipse all others doesn't do much to open the University.

In fact, SASC members and others who would like to see an increase in student participation in running Harvard defeat themselves by doing so little to expand their agenda. The most serious problem is not the closed nature of the Board. Rather, it is within the movement itself, in that its members have been inspired not so much by glasnost as by divestment. So long as activists are more concerned about individual issues than openness, the movement can never succeed.

LAST SATURDAY'S forum in Boston was sponsored by the Democratic Club and the Radcliffe Union of Students. An agglomeration of about 50 activists showed up ready to demand University glasnost. The strategy of pursuing "influence" rather than a specific action was devised after divestment activists found themselves banging their heads against walls trying to penetrate the Corporation. So they decided to talk to corporation members themselves and "convince" them to divest.

The plan was to call them at work and shout at them about divestment or to shout at their secretaries if the corporation members refused to talk. The strategy included getting friends of SASC members elected to the Board of Overseers, and getting them to talk up divestment to fellow Board members until the corporation finally saw the light.

But what does glasnost mean at Harvard? Will it mean openness for all students, providing everyone a meaningful opportunity to provide input into the governance of the college? Or does openness here in Cambridge merely mean holding a forum in Boston that will be attended by SASC members and few others?

The challenge now is to secure a regular method of input into decision-making on the Board. It is not enough to meet once a year with two newly elected overseers.

With a 30-member Board of Overseers, it is not unreasonable to expect one undergraduate to sit on the board. After all, Wesleyan, Berkeley and many other college have students sitting on their version of Harvard's corporation.

BUT THE movement for openness will require more than the simple synergy of aggregate interests within the Harvard community. Divestment activists must look for more than just divestment, and those who seek input into tenure decisions must want more than just to choose their teachers. If that is all they seek, some momentum within the student movement will inevitably be lost with the satisfaction of each individual cause.

Openness in governance is the common thread running through every student movement on campus. If the variety of student interests can be unified behind this goal and a system of student input into governance permanently established, all students will benefit.

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