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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Activists Rouse a Dormant University

By David S. Stolzar, Crimson Staff Writer

In the past, Harvard has been seen as a leader, a benchmark for other universities and educators.

But in 1998-99, the impetus for changes at Harvard has come from the outside. And in some cases students, rather than administrators, have initiated the dialogue for change.

Harvard, along with college campuses around the country, has seen a level of activism unparalleled in nearly 20 years. For Harvard in particular, 1998-99 has been a year when longstanding policies have been challenged, or even changed.

Harvard has had the opportunity to lead on several issues that also faced other universities, such as movements to use University muscle to combat sweatshops, to give students more time and space, and to help middle class families with increased financial aid.

Students and faculty have also raised issues that concerned their own lives while at the University--lack of student space, resources for victims of sexual assault and the much-maligned tenure process.

However high their hopes, this year's activists expected an uphill battle because of Harvard's reputation for conservatism.

The University is pointing to constraints that will delay results in several cases. But both sides of the negotiating table this year have gotten more than they bargained for.

In Your Face Activism

The Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) made sure that its concerns were in the campus eye, and a thorn in the side of the administration.

Formed last year, the group participated in two major protest movements this year--the Living Wage Campaign and the anti-sweatshop movement. The two movements have two distinct negotiating styles based on different expectations of the administration.

Daniel R. Morgan '99 is one of the leaders of the Living Wage Campaign, which has demanded a $10 per hour minimum wage for all Harvard employees. He says the group expected that its goals would not be met for two to three years.

Morgan says his expectations were built around Harvard's long-term attitude toward policy change.

"In terms of Harvard, we've been around for 350 years. A 10-year study is no big deal," Morgan says, quoting Brian C. Culver, Harvard's project coordinator of engineering and utilities.

Culver may have been discussing a construction project, but Morgan says that attitude has shaped the fundamental strategy of the Living Wage Campaign.

"We're in no position to negotiate with them," Morgan says. "Our campaign has to be planned on a much longer scale."

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III has noted several reasons why Harvard has not been able to implement a living wage as quickly as students would like.

"The University does not keep information centrally about who is employed in what categories," Epps says. "Harvard also has 9,000 subcontractors on which we must collect information."

But after PSLM staged a rally on March 9 along with the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (CASV) outside a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Provost Harvey V. Fineberg '67 met with the group twice to discuss its demands.

Since then, Harvard has created a Faculty task force, chaired by Weather-head Professor of Business Administration D. Quinn Mills, to investigate the need for and cost of implementing a living wage at Harvard. A University of Wisconsin symposium on the issue may also help Harvard act.

Despite these advances, PSLM member Elizabeth C. Vladeck '99 says the University is simply dragging its feet on a move it should have made months ago.

"It was a huge symbolic move for them to create a committee...but negotiating in meetings is not our primary means for getting a living wage," Morgan adds. "We want to put enough public pressure on them so that they can no longer afford to maintain their position."

Morgan says he hopes that Harvard's desire to be a leader in the educational community will ultimately lead it to implement a living wage policy.

"Harvard would be the first private institution to implement a living wage; this will initiate a transformation of the private sphere," Morgan says. "Harvard wants to be viewed as a leader."

Keeping Up With the Competition

This would seem to be the case from Harvard's reaction to the Students Against Sweatshops (SAS) movement, a national initiative that PSLM signed on to early this year. The movement calls for the regulation of factories that manufacture Harvard apparel.

SAS leader Daniel M. Hennefeld '99 says Harvard's desire to be a leader has been one of the major causes of his movement's success this year.

By the time PSLM staged its March 9 rally, students at several other schools had already won concessions from their administrators through protests and sit-ins. Schools such as Georgetown, Wisconsin and Duke had said they would withdraw from the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) if it did not disclose factory locations by the end of the year.

"We emphasized that point; Harvard prides itself on being a leader," Hennefeld says. "Other schools were beating Harvard to the punch, so we expected movement pretty soon."

As PSLM and CASV members gathered around University Hall during the Faculty meeting, the University released a statement that it too would commit itself to "full disclosure" of factory locations.

Since then, SAS activists have been meeting regularly with University Attorney Allan A. Ryan and have scored several other victories, says Hennefeld--including a tentative commitment-in-principle to a living wage for sweatshop workers and a faculty and student advisorycommittee to be established this summer. However,in other areas of negotiation, SAS has beendisappointed by the University's response.

While Vladeck says she has been impressed bythe University's commitment to making changes insweatshop policy, she has been disappointed by thevalue it has placed on student input.

Harvard formed the Independent UniversityInitiative (IUI) with three other schools in aneffort to bring new standards to the factorymonitoring process. But SAS members have objectedto the IUI's employment of Price WaterhouseCoopers, an audit firm, to do the monitoring.Students were not notified in advance of thedecision, and say they have concerns with thefirm.

Still, PSLM will continue to negotiate with theUniversity on an anti-sweatshop code, Morgan says.

"Because there are a lot of fine points andcomplicated issues, this needs to be a cooperativeprocess," he says, adding that he has beenimpressed by the Univerity's responsiveness sofar.

"We expect this to be a very long-term process,"Morgan says.

The international scope of the problem leadsSAS organizers to hope that Harvard will try toassert itself as a leader.

"Harvard's been saying since the beginning thatit wants to have a role as a moral beacon,"Vladeck says. "Allan Ryan thinks that the IUI is away that they can be unique."

Inch By Inch

The result CASV, another participant in theMarch 9 rally, gained from the administrationspeak to the types of changes Harvard is willingto make quickly--increased training for SexualAssault Sexual Harrassment (SASH) advisers andmore attention to issues of sexual violence duringfirst-year orientation.

The new women's center, however, will be a longtime in coming. Major policy changes--like theautomatic expulsion of students convicted of rapeor sexual assault--also need to wait for slowadministrative gears to turn.

"It's an area no one [among administrators]knows anything about," says Brina Milikowsky '00,one of the coalition's founders.

The CASV, formed after an undergraduate femaleaccused Joshua M. Elster, Class of 2000, of rapingher, spent the beginning of this year quietlyconducting a comparative study of Harvard's andother school's resources for sexual assaultvictims.

A February article in Perspective, in which twoHarvard rape victims complained that the schooldid not take the problem of rape seriously enoughand lacked adequate resources for rape survivors,sparked the coalition to action this spring.

The CASV presented the administration with alist of eight demands, distributed buttonsproclaiming that "Rape Happens at Harvard" andjoined in the March 9 "Rally for Justice."

But after a number of meetings with AssistantDean of the College Karen E. Avery '87 and, later,Acting Assistant Dean for Co-education Julia G.Fox, the group was able to win commitments fromthe University on some of its demands.

According to Fox, SASH counselors will gothrough a mandatory training program the weekbefore students arrive on campus in the fall, inaddition to the once-a-month meetings theycurrently attend. Some orientation material isalso being rewritten to include more informationon sexual assault resources.

Fox made it clear, however, that the Collegecould not commit to the women's center anytimesoon.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 "is notin a position, while he deals with Radcliffemerger issues, to discuss a women's center," Foxsays.

But more fundamental difficulties may impedethe long wait that would precede a women'scenter--if the University undertakes such aproject at all. In this case, Harvard's policy ofinclusion would stand in the way.

In an e-mail message last month, Lewis wrote,"It is our stance that all of Harvard belongs toall the students, and the creation of a separatespace for women (or for minority students) wouldinstitutionalize the notion that the rest ofHarvard does not fully belong to them."

The Tortoise Wins the Race

While it seemed that Harvard lagged behindother schools in making financial aid changes, itseventual policy announcement last fall positionedthe school as a leader.

The announcement came eight months afterPrinceton had made a $4 to $6 million aidincrease, followed by sizable increases in aid atYale, Stanford and MIT.

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, however,rejects the notion that Harvard "intended blindlyto mimic [other schools'] actions."

"I consider changes in financial aid EVERYyear, and every year we make adjustments," Knowleswrote in an email message.

"The major step we took last year...was drivenmainly by the fact that we were able to do it," headds, alluding to the large increase in availablefunds that resulted from Harvard's current CapitalCampaign.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R.Fitzsimmons '67 notes that Harvard made itsfinancial aid changes for different reasons thanschools like Princeton, which had seen a declinein yield from middle- and lower-class applicants.In contrast, Harvard has seen a steady increase inyield. The policy changes were made in an effortto reduce the burden on financial aid students.

"I think we were headed toward a two-tiersystem...in which financial aid students were notfully able to take advantage of the opportunitiesat Harvard," he says, noting that students couldchoose to reduce the time they spend on term-timeor summer employment with the aid increase.

"There's not an institution in the country thatwouldn't have taken a second look at itspolicies," Fitzsimmons says.

But Harvard's increasing yield allowed it totake its time when formulating its new financialaid offerings. In the meantime, Harvard made itclear to admitted students that it would respondto competitive aid offers on a case-by-case basis.

When the University finally acted, it acted ina big way: a 20 percent aid increase, totaling $9million and dwarfing the per-student increases atYale, MIT and Stanford. Harvard's changesimmediately took effect for all students onfinancial aid while the changes at other schoolstook effect only for later classes.

But the action shows that regardless of whetherHarvard tried to or not, it was a leader--moraland practical--in developing financial aid policy.

Centering on Demand

One area where Harvard has not kept up with thecompetition is in the realm of the student center.

Most of the competition has built them. Thosethat haven't are planning extravagant buildingsfor students to meet, perform, eat, exercise andsocialize. But Harvard has no plans to build one,despite repeated student demands for one.

This spring, the Undergraduate Council made astudent center its rallying cry. After months ofcollecting information about the centers atschools such as Duke, the University ofPennsylvania and Brown, the council held an open"town meeting" where it presented its vision for acenter and asked students for theirs.

Convinced that the focus of student life atHarvard has shifted from the Houses to studentgroups, the council asked for a centralizedbuilding that would solve Harvard'swell-documented shortage of office, meeting andperformance space and facilitate communicationbetween various groups.

Despite the council's $25,000 pledge toward thecause and support from Epps, the proposal facesstrong opposition from Knowles and Lewis--the twoadministrators whose support is most crucial toits success.

"The proposal for a student center is notgetting the support from my colleagues that itneeds," Epps told The Crimson in May.

While acknowledging the need for more studentspace, Lewis has said he would prefer to free upspace for student groups in already-existingbuildings.

Epps admits that the College can be responsiveto student demands without constructing a newbuilding.

"We are renovating Holden Chapel, and are usinga new online management system for space," Eppssays. "There has also been talk of building a newperformance space. There has been a response tosome of the problems, but not within the contextof a student center."

While a major obstacle is finding the propertyand the resources to build such a center,administrative preconceptions have been theprincipal reason the council's grand dreams areunlikely to become a reality.

"I think we need more space for studentoffices, publications, rehearsal space...and anumber of other things that support educationallyvaluable extracurricular activities," Lewis wrotein an e-mail message. "But when I hear 'studentcenter,' I think of video games and pizza, which Idon't think we need."

"Dean Lewis and I have not favored acentralized student center (even if there were aplace to put such a thing)," Knowles added in ane-mail message.

It is unlikely that administration attitudeswill change, unless, as Tufts Director of StudentActivities Jodie A. Nealley predicts will happen,students begin to put more weight on theavailability of such facilities when choosing acollege.

Uncharted Waters

The perennial debates over tenure at Harvardwere on the backburner of this year, but quietcomplaints by departing junior faculty members andcontinued discussion at the administrative level,ensure it will flare up again.

This spring Harvard saw the departure of fourjunior Faculty in the English department and asteady trickle from other departments, such asgovernment and economics.

According to Marquand Professor of EnglishLawrence Buell, the high turnover results in alack of continuity for students since professorsleave after only a few years at Harvard to snatchother opportunities while they can.

The early departure of professors and thedifficulty of obtaining a tenured position atHarvard have also been cited as causes for the lowpercentage of tenured women in the Faculty.

In March the FAS Standing Committee on theStatus of Women reported that only 22 percent ofHarvard's tenured faculty in the humanities arewomen, even though women comprise 45 percent ofthe junior faculty in the humanities.

"The issue that seems most obvious from theinside of Harvard is the historic long odds ofgetting promoted from within," Buell says. "But tome the more significant issue right now is[that]...the jobs out there are bunched. They seemto be entry level or more senior jobs."

This structural problem--what Buell has calledthe hourglass shape of the job market inacademia--has squeezed the opportunities at alluniversities, meaning that Harvard is competingwith them for young, talented professors.

"The recruitment and retention of juniorfaculty is discussed often, and the past year isno exception," Knowles wrote in an e-mail message."As I announced at the full Faculty meeting inMay, I expect that we shall return to thesematters in the fall."

There have been hints that Harvard may sweetenthe Harvard experience for junior faculty, and todo so would be to take a leadership role. Whetherby moving first or moving most--or perhaps simplyby moving at all--Harvard can set precedents intenure and other areas of concern.

What remains to be seen is whether the schoolthat prides itself on training leaders is stillintent on being one.CrimsonRoss J. FleischmanLINING UP AT THE DOOR: Members of theCoalition Against Sexual Violence rally forjustice, specifically, services for women, outsidea March 9 Faculty meeting.

While Vladeck says she has been impressed bythe University's commitment to making changes insweatshop policy, she has been disappointed by thevalue it has placed on student input.

Harvard formed the Independent UniversityInitiative (IUI) with three other schools in aneffort to bring new standards to the factorymonitoring process. But SAS members have objectedto the IUI's employment of Price WaterhouseCoopers, an audit firm, to do the monitoring.Students were not notified in advance of thedecision, and say they have concerns with thefirm.

Still, PSLM will continue to negotiate with theUniversity on an anti-sweatshop code, Morgan says.

"Because there are a lot of fine points andcomplicated issues, this needs to be a cooperativeprocess," he says, adding that he has beenimpressed by the Univerity's responsiveness sofar.

"We expect this to be a very long-term process,"Morgan says.

The international scope of the problem leadsSAS organizers to hope that Harvard will try toassert itself as a leader.

"Harvard's been saying since the beginning thatit wants to have a role as a moral beacon,"Vladeck says. "Allan Ryan thinks that the IUI is away that they can be unique."

Inch By Inch

The result CASV, another participant in theMarch 9 rally, gained from the administrationspeak to the types of changes Harvard is willingto make quickly--increased training for SexualAssault Sexual Harrassment (SASH) advisers andmore attention to issues of sexual violence duringfirst-year orientation.

The new women's center, however, will be a longtime in coming. Major policy changes--like theautomatic expulsion of students convicted of rapeor sexual assault--also need to wait for slowadministrative gears to turn.

"It's an area no one [among administrators]knows anything about," says Brina Milikowsky '00,one of the coalition's founders.

The CASV, formed after an undergraduate femaleaccused Joshua M. Elster, Class of 2000, of rapingher, spent the beginning of this year quietlyconducting a comparative study of Harvard's andother school's resources for sexual assaultvictims.

A February article in Perspective, in which twoHarvard rape victims complained that the schooldid not take the problem of rape seriously enoughand lacked adequate resources for rape survivors,sparked the coalition to action this spring.

The CASV presented the administration with alist of eight demands, distributed buttonsproclaiming that "Rape Happens at Harvard" andjoined in the March 9 "Rally for Justice."

But after a number of meetings with AssistantDean of the College Karen E. Avery '87 and, later,Acting Assistant Dean for Co-education Julia G.Fox, the group was able to win commitments fromthe University on some of its demands.

According to Fox, SASH counselors will gothrough a mandatory training program the weekbefore students arrive on campus in the fall, inaddition to the once-a-month meetings theycurrently attend. Some orientation material isalso being rewritten to include more informationon sexual assault resources.

Fox made it clear, however, that the Collegecould not commit to the women's center anytimesoon.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 "is notin a position, while he deals with Radcliffemerger issues, to discuss a women's center," Foxsays.

But more fundamental difficulties may impedethe long wait that would precede a women'scenter--if the University undertakes such aproject at all. In this case, Harvard's policy ofinclusion would stand in the way.

In an e-mail message last month, Lewis wrote,"It is our stance that all of Harvard belongs toall the students, and the creation of a separatespace for women (or for minority students) wouldinstitutionalize the notion that the rest ofHarvard does not fully belong to them."

The Tortoise Wins the Race

While it seemed that Harvard lagged behindother schools in making financial aid changes, itseventual policy announcement last fall positionedthe school as a leader.

The announcement came eight months afterPrinceton had made a $4 to $6 million aidincrease, followed by sizable increases in aid atYale, Stanford and MIT.

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, however,rejects the notion that Harvard "intended blindlyto mimic [other schools'] actions."

"I consider changes in financial aid EVERYyear, and every year we make adjustments," Knowleswrote in an email message.

"The major step we took last year...was drivenmainly by the fact that we were able to do it," headds, alluding to the large increase in availablefunds that resulted from Harvard's current CapitalCampaign.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R.Fitzsimmons '67 notes that Harvard made itsfinancial aid changes for different reasons thanschools like Princeton, which had seen a declinein yield from middle- and lower-class applicants.In contrast, Harvard has seen a steady increase inyield. The policy changes were made in an effortto reduce the burden on financial aid students.

"I think we were headed toward a two-tiersystem...in which financial aid students were notfully able to take advantage of the opportunitiesat Harvard," he says, noting that students couldchoose to reduce the time they spend on term-timeor summer employment with the aid increase.

"There's not an institution in the country thatwouldn't have taken a second look at itspolicies," Fitzsimmons says.

But Harvard's increasing yield allowed it totake its time when formulating its new financialaid offerings. In the meantime, Harvard made itclear to admitted students that it would respondto competitive aid offers on a case-by-case basis.

When the University finally acted, it acted ina big way: a 20 percent aid increase, totaling $9million and dwarfing the per-student increases atYale, MIT and Stanford. Harvard's changesimmediately took effect for all students onfinancial aid while the changes at other schoolstook effect only for later classes.

But the action shows that regardless of whetherHarvard tried to or not, it was a leader--moraland practical--in developing financial aid policy.

Centering on Demand

One area where Harvard has not kept up with thecompetition is in the realm of the student center.

Most of the competition has built them. Thosethat haven't are planning extravagant buildingsfor students to meet, perform, eat, exercise andsocialize. But Harvard has no plans to build one,despite repeated student demands for one.

This spring, the Undergraduate Council made astudent center its rallying cry. After months ofcollecting information about the centers atschools such as Duke, the University ofPennsylvania and Brown, the council held an open"town meeting" where it presented its vision for acenter and asked students for theirs.

Convinced that the focus of student life atHarvard has shifted from the Houses to studentgroups, the council asked for a centralizedbuilding that would solve Harvard'swell-documented shortage of office, meeting andperformance space and facilitate communicationbetween various groups.

Despite the council's $25,000 pledge toward thecause and support from Epps, the proposal facesstrong opposition from Knowles and Lewis--the twoadministrators whose support is most crucial toits success.

"The proposal for a student center is notgetting the support from my colleagues that itneeds," Epps told The Crimson in May.

While acknowledging the need for more studentspace, Lewis has said he would prefer to free upspace for student groups in already-existingbuildings.

Epps admits that the College can be responsiveto student demands without constructing a newbuilding.

"We are renovating Holden Chapel, and are usinga new online management system for space," Eppssays. "There has also been talk of building a newperformance space. There has been a response tosome of the problems, but not within the contextof a student center."

While a major obstacle is finding the propertyand the resources to build such a center,administrative preconceptions have been theprincipal reason the council's grand dreams areunlikely to become a reality.

"I think we need more space for studentoffices, publications, rehearsal space...and anumber of other things that support educationallyvaluable extracurricular activities," Lewis wrotein an e-mail message. "But when I hear 'studentcenter,' I think of video games and pizza, which Idon't think we need."

"Dean Lewis and I have not favored acentralized student center (even if there were aplace to put such a thing)," Knowles added in ane-mail message.

It is unlikely that administration attitudeswill change, unless, as Tufts Director of StudentActivities Jodie A. Nealley predicts will happen,students begin to put more weight on theavailability of such facilities when choosing acollege.

Uncharted Waters

The perennial debates over tenure at Harvardwere on the backburner of this year, but quietcomplaints by departing junior faculty members andcontinued discussion at the administrative level,ensure it will flare up again.

This spring Harvard saw the departure of fourjunior Faculty in the English department and asteady trickle from other departments, such asgovernment and economics.

According to Marquand Professor of EnglishLawrence Buell, the high turnover results in alack of continuity for students since professorsleave after only a few years at Harvard to snatchother opportunities while they can.

The early departure of professors and thedifficulty of obtaining a tenured position atHarvard have also been cited as causes for the lowpercentage of tenured women in the Faculty.

In March the FAS Standing Committee on theStatus of Women reported that only 22 percent ofHarvard's tenured faculty in the humanities arewomen, even though women comprise 45 percent ofthe junior faculty in the humanities.

"The issue that seems most obvious from theinside of Harvard is the historic long odds ofgetting promoted from within," Buell says. "But tome the more significant issue right now is[that]...the jobs out there are bunched. They seemto be entry level or more senior jobs."

This structural problem--what Buell has calledthe hourglass shape of the job market inacademia--has squeezed the opportunities at alluniversities, meaning that Harvard is competingwith them for young, talented professors.

"The recruitment and retention of juniorfaculty is discussed often, and the past year isno exception," Knowles wrote in an e-mail message."As I announced at the full Faculty meeting inMay, I expect that we shall return to thesematters in the fall."

There have been hints that Harvard may sweetenthe Harvard experience for junior faculty, and todo so would be to take a leadership role. Whetherby moving first or moving most--or perhaps simplyby moving at all--Harvard can set precedents intenure and other areas of concern.

What remains to be seen is whether the schoolthat prides itself on training leaders is stillintent on being one.CrimsonRoss J. FleischmanLINING UP AT THE DOOR: Members of theCoalition Against Sexual Violence rally forjustice, specifically, services for women, outsidea March 9 Faculty meeting.

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