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Now that President Derek C. Bok and dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence have resigned from the top two posts of the University, a collective confusion has settled in the streets of Cambridge. Will the $2 billion fund drive move forward on schedule? What will happen to tenure reform?
In which direction will Harvard move?
Perhaps a better question is in which direction Harvard should move. Here the answer is more clear: toward openness. A University that thrives on free discussion and the exchange of ideas should undo the closed nature of its decision-making structures.
Why? A more open University is not only more democratic, but stronger as well. Opening the University will foster a more ethical investment policy, a better education for students and healthier lives for all University residents.
OPENNESS has to start at the top. The University should hold open Corporation meetings, liberalize the election process for the Board of Overseers--allowing students to vote--and make key investment decisions public on a quarterly basis. Such procedural changes will have profound effects on the University's ability to act responsibly in Cambridge and in the country. They will help:
. Limit the questionable investments of the University's high-paid money managers, whose actions are currently not subject to any ethical oversight. For example, Harvard played a major role in the billion-dollar RJR-Nabisco buyout and the similar leveraged buyout of Safeway, deals widely questioned for their treatment of workers and accumulation of debt.
. Make Harvard's short-range and long-range development plans accessible to Cambridge officials and residents.
. Finally divest. Outside pressure on Harvard decision-makers under a more open system should force the University to live up to its moral responsibility and refuse to do business with firms in South Africa.
OPENNESS must extend to major academic decisions as well.
The tenure system, now shrouded in secrecy, must be made more accountable and fair. As it now stands, immense tenuring power resides in closed ad-hoc committees of scholars appointed to advise Bok. The names of people on the panels are never made public, and not even those at the center of the process truly understands how it works.
To remedy this situation, ad-hoc committees should be abolished and replaced by a Faculty-wide system in which no department could block tenure appointments at will. The University should institute a tenure-track system, which would guarantee each junior faculty member a realistic chance of receiving a tenured position. These proposals would:
. Ensure that top junior professors come to Harvard, thus revitalizing languishing departments such as English and History.
. Bring more highly recruited women and minority professors to Harvard. Some have rejected offers from Harvard because they know they have little chance of receiving tenure. Under a tenure-track system similar to those at many other schools, this fear would be alleviated, and a broader mix of qualified scholars would come to Harvard.
FULL disclosure of pollution hazards--environmental openness--is also critical to the future of the University. In January, top administrators became aware that the concentrations of potentially cancer causing substances in Harvard water had been dangerously high for more than 16 months. Yet they remained silent, later calling such information too "alarming" to release. As the bureaucracy passed the warning notice from office to office, students, staff and faculty kept drinking the water.
The lessons from this episode are clear. The Environmental Safety Committee must release all relevant health data to the Harvard community immediately. The health bureaucracy must be streamlined so that relevant deans can notify students of hazards immediately. And a student should be placed on the Committee to prevent future lapses of judgement.
Harvard's closed decision-making processes have literally threatened the health of the University community.
OPENNESS has an ideological component. Harvard should make all efforts to ensure that people of all genders, races, classes and sexual orientations feel welcome to study here--while being careful not to limit Constitution-protected freedom of speech. This would involve a commitment to:
. Institute sensitivity training for Harvard police on both issues of sexual orientation and racial sensitivity. Their use of rubber gloves to fingerprint gays arrested in the Science Center bathroom was unnecessary and demeaning. The police have also had problems treating Black students in a fair and respectful manner.
. Hold mandatory date rape workshops for all first-year students. There is no excuse for Harvard to restrict such important protection to a voluntary basis.
. Censure, but not censor. The Harvard community should make clear that it disapproves of offensive speech, while allowing such speech nonetheless.
LAST but not least, a sincere commitment to openness involves listening to students and (here's the hard part) acting on student demands. It is absurd that members of the Corporation--which meets every two weeks--refuse to meet regularly with undergraduates. If they did, students could make clear the need to:
. Improve campus security. The escort service admits in the phone book that it cannot be used routinely for protection. Harvard must provide more funding for a full-fledged escort service and must provide for a 24 hour study area.
. Open discussion about student center. Students should have more input into the conversion of Memorial Hall into a student center--input that they never had before.
. Find a women's center. Harvard undergraduates deserve what almost all Ivy League students have: a place on campus where those interested in women's issues can meet.
THE issues may be numerous, but the fundamental question is not: Will Harvard continue to drift away from its academic mission, narrow-minded in its pursuit of dollars and closed to outside influence, until it loses its national preeminence? Or will it accept its responsibility as an educational institution, open its decision-making structures, and adapt for the future? The answer will largely depend on who is the next president.
Tune in next year.
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