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Making Choices at Radcliffe

By Joshua M. Sharfstein

AFTER less than one year in office, Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson needs to make up her mind. Is Radcliffe primarily a graduate-level research institution? Or is it a reliable resource for women undergraduates?

Because of Radcliffe's dire financial situation, Wilson can't have it both ways. If she wants to build Radcliffe into the foremost women's research center in the country, she should not be bogged down with paying for the concerns of 3000 Harvard-Radcliffe undergraduates. Instead, she should demand that Harvard accept full financial responsibility for issues such as campus security, meeting space for women's groups and funding for undergraduate public service.

If, on the other hand, Wilson does want to meet the needs of female college students, she should direct her energy and funds towards undergraduate life and scale back efforts to expand research facilities.

It's one or the other.

UNFORTUNATELY, Wilson has tried to have her cake and eat it too. While her actions reveal that she intends to turn Radcliffe into the foremost women's research center, she maintains the illusion that she can also provide sufficient support for female students. The result of this charade is the tragic sacrifice of women's issues on campus.

CASUALTY 1: Women's Center. The lack of adequate meeting space and funding for women's groups at Harvard has long been a concern to many undergraduates. This April, Wilson boldly announced the opening of the Lyman Common Room--a large reception room in Agassiz House--for use by students, staff and alumnae. At first, some speculated that the room was a precursor to a women's center, or at the least, additional space available to women's groups.

In reality, the space was the cage into which almost all undergraduate women's activities have been herded. The room that housed the previous women's center will likely be made off limits to the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS). The room of the Association of Black Radcliffe Women may be taken away as well. What's worse is that students have not been guaranteed access to the Lyman Common Room when they want it. They will have to press their claims against those of alumnae, staff and graduate students to the assistant dean in charge of the common room, who was appointed without significant student input.

CASUALTY 2: Women's Advocacy Wilson, despite her claim that Radcliffe should serve female undergraduates, has been silent on key issues of importance to undergraduate life. When asked to take a stand on Harvard's small number of female faculty, she declined; when pressed on issues of concern to women students--such as security issues and a women's center--she has steadfastly refused to take a position; when asked whether she considered herself a feminist, she said she didn't like labels (but added that many of her friends were feminists).

Whether or not Wilson chooses to make Radcliffe solely a graduate research center, she should end her silence on these issues. She should either accept financial responsibility for women's concerns or vocally demand that Harvard take action. Her current attitude has created only student confusion and bitterness.

CASUALTY 3: Education 4 Action. This Radcliffe public service organization is a funder of last resort for dozens of undergraduate activities. It has provided critical funding for Alternative Spring Break, Phillips Brooks House summer programs and minority student publications, among other valuable activities.

Now Wilson appears to be moving to liquidate the program, after reaching an "agreement" involving the departure of popular E4A staff member Suzanne Motherall and appointment of a temporary part-time staff member (again, without student input) to take her place. E4A may also be forced to give up its room to share space with the other student groups in the Lyman Common Room.

Wilson should be very wary if she plans to destroy E4A, an organization that has touched the lives of more undergraduates than she realizes. If Radcliffe cannot fund the program for undergraduate public service any longer, she should demand that Harvard pick up the tab.

WHILE maintaining a vague aloofness from Harvard's day-to-day life, Wilson has made frequent reference to her "grand strategy" for Radcliffe. She has not yet publicly defined this strategy, but her actions give much hint as to its nature. It likely involves moving Radcliffe further onto the national research scene. Wilson's recent proposal for a gender and public policy institute, for example, promises to bring much needed money to the institution. This step was a good one--if Wilson is driving to make Radcliffe a research center. But if that is Wilson's major goal, why doesn't she just say it?

This charade can go on no longer. Perhaps even more than President Bush himself, Wilson needs a hefty dose of the "vision thing." Until Wilson makes up her mind, Radcliffe--and women's issues--will continue to suffer.

Melissa R. Hart '91 is executive editor of The Crimson and an active member of RUS. Joshua M. Sharfstein '91 is editorial chair of The Crimson.

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