Council leaders said the council should stick to the role it could best fill--social leadership. But instead of spearheading a drive to improve quality of life, the council showed its maddening inability to do anything that the student body wanted.
Three times the council attempted to line-up a spring concert, and three times it failed. If Harvard can pull in visiting scholars and speakers who students have actually heard of and the Hasty Pudding can attract top Hollywood talent to award each year--the least the student body can expect is a few rock concerts from known groups.
The council's agenda must be overhauled in order to effectively guard student interests and back student efforts. As a nominal representative, the council has an entree to meetings with top administrators; but because it sought to avoid taking stands on controversial political issues, these meetings have effectively relegated important issues to Yard protests. In order for these contacts to be effective, the council must show that it is actually acting on the students' mandate. If the council is to be a catalyst, rather than a hindrance for change, members should be elected more for their platforms than for their popularity.
To extend the democracy of a diverse campus and to energize the half-dead social life, the college needs to move swiftly. One key proposal is a student center with room for campus organizations, bands, pubs, and gathering--open to all students. The center would boost campus cohesion and activity, just as house life has fragmented it. While the houses offer an important range of artistic and tutorial services, a campus-wide student center would provide benefits they cannot offer. As student tuitions continue to rise beyond inflation to fund the growing budget, now is a key time to accommodate student interests in spending that budget.
Concerns for democracy go beyond an opened and improved social life. The administration must recognize that the diverse student body it admits has needs that have not been addressed by the traditional hierarchy. In a tenured faculty of 7 percent women and 6 percent minorities, role models for a majority of the student body are few and far between.
The administration did react to new student groups by forming committees to respond to them. The minority student report spurred administrators to appoint a panel to bolster recruitment efforts. The University also formed a committee to address gay rights issues.
But these were mere tiptoed steps toward reform. They also represent a way for the administration to put off action in favor of yet more years of study and vague goals. The Law School protest was met with a vow to "continue to give high priority to minority hiring" and promises to consider ways to encourage minorities to teach law--no concrete actions. The problems are clear--there are not enough women and minorities being hired and not a conducive climate towards keeping them here. It's up to the University to stop pontificating from on high and take direct action.
And there needs to be more direct dialogue between administrators and students. Officials rarely met with the student groups issuing complaints this year; they simply responded in terse, written statements when student groups, such as the Minority Students Alliance, asked them to listen. This is no way to conduct relations and certainly no way to democratically accommodate and act on student concerns.
The Corporation refused a council request to annual meetings with students. The request certainly was not much to ask; the refusal shows how adamantly opposed to dialogue the administration is As a reflection of the white male-run Corporation that runs this school, this attitude makes sense. But now students are showing that they expect more. And having deigned to admit a diverse student body, Harvard has a responsibility to accommodate their concerns.