Lewis hypothesizes that as a result of the current economic slowdown, first-year students feel pressure to take care of themselves before engaging in altruistic community service or other extracurricular pursuits.
“Students are probably feeling morevulnerable and less secure and before they have fun they want to be sure their studies are in order, on the vague feeling their education will be more important to their future career prospects,” Lewis writes in an e-mail.
Some student leaders theorize that when the economy is good, many students feel guilty about their well-being and try to make up for it by volunteering.
But Clancy says that a bad economy should make students feel more needed.
“Homeless shelters are being closed down and funding for public service is dropping, so the need for students to enter public service is greater,” she says.
Kristin M. Garcia ’05, program director of the Franklin Afterschool Enrichment (FASE) program, says she does not think economic pressures have forced first-years to abandon public service.
According to Garcia, most first-years working for FASE this year are on federal work-study and thus receive money for their service.
“I don’t think September 11 or economic crises have anything to do with it,” Garcia says. “First-years just don’t seem willing to enter public service anymore.”
While the economy and Lewis’ letter have been blamed for everything from PBHA shortfalls to a downturn in Undergraduate Council candidates, some students also acknowledge that a stern Sept. 8 speech by Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby to the Class of 2006 may have played a role in decreased participation by first-years.
Amid light-hearted welcome speeches by other administrators at a Tercentenary Theatre ceremony, Kirby addressed specific issues of study abroad and student-faculty interaction, and he called on students to do their part in sustaining the campus’ academic life.
“You are here to work, and your business here is to learn,” Kirby said.
Neeraj Banerji ’06, who is considering working for PBHA but has not yet committed himself, said Kirby’s words were not lost on his classmates.
“Everybody seems to be concentrating on one major activity,” he says. “Lewis said studies are important while keeping time for relaxation too, and Kirby underlined the fact that studies were our top priority.”
Lewis declined to say whether he thought students were discouraged from pursuing extracurriculars by Kirby’s speech, joking that it would be “earth-shattering news” if students listened to their deans.
If administrative pleas for students to consider their studies and mental health when shopping for extracurricular groups have been heeded, Lewis says that does not necessarily mean there is something wrong with the Class of 2006.