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Paternalism Is Unnecessary



WHO SAID Mother Harvard does not coddle her young?

In a fit of paternalism, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III has prohibited Harvard student groups from traveling outside North America. Responding to 70 reported incidents of terrorism sparked by the Persian Gulf war, Epps decided on February 8 that the College's groups could not decide for themselves whether to travel abroad.

The College does not and should not decide whether student groups can fly unsafe airlines or travel to high-crime areas at night or use non-tartar-control toothpaste. And it should not try to control student travel--even during times of war.

STUDENTS should be extremely concerned about the threat of terrorism; certainly there is a risk to be evaluated. Harvard's name would be an easy target for any anti-American group trying to make a point.

And many students had demonstrated their concern. Let's Go had nixed its usual trips to Israel, Jordan and North Africa--even going so far as to cancel on-site coverage of Greece.

As responsible adults, students can independently weigh the risks of traveling during a war. Epps says he made his decision after discussions with the State Department, suggesting that his risk evaluation is therefore more valid.

If Epps knows something we don't know, he should tell us. If he is concerned about issues of liability, he should be up front and tell us. So far he hasn't. The College should not limit the ability of students to make these vital cost-benefit calculations. The restrictions undermine an important function of college life--to provide an arena in which students make these kinds of decisions without a watchful parent or guardian to oversee them.

Perhaps the case would be hazier if all of these groups were using College funding for the overseas trips. But the restrictions even apply to independent groups with no College aid. The members of these organizations should obviously be able to spend that money as they see fit.

ALREADY, Epps has responded favorably to appeals from the graduate boards of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the Harvard Krokodiloes and the Radcliffe Pitches. Friday he announced that these groups can proceed with planned shows in Bermuda. Unfortunately, Epps has a long history of favoritism toward these older student groups. War-inspired terrorism can occur in the Americas as well, as a recent incident in Lima, Peru, demonstrates. But students should still be permitted to calculate these risks on their own.

We encourage all student groups who disagree with Epps's risk evaluations to challenge his ruling. Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 told The Crimson Friday that legal action against such groups would be impossible. Enforcing the ban effectively would require Big Brother-like vigilance on the part of the College.

President Derek C. Bok once wrote that universities must "help their students become more thoughtful and perceptive about [society's] problems." If this is to be a reality at Harvard, paternalism cannot be allowed to stifle the process of student decision-making in a risky and problematic world.

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