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Now that Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 has once again suggested having students on the Administrative Board—something that would significantly improve the Ad Board’s accessibility to students—it is time for Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and others in the College administration to take meaningful actions toward considering this very serious proposal.
For starters, those who argue against student membership on the Ad Board must explain how keeping them off would benefit the student body. Having students on the Ad Board would do two things: legitimize the process of disciplinary action for students and allow the panel to gain access to the student perspective. In these two ways, student membership on the Ad Board would not only help the student body by giving them a Board they could better relate to but it would also assist the Board to become more in touch with the students it presides over.
Other schools, including Yale and MIT, have realized the fairness that results from a system that, much like our own judicial system, includes a method of peer review in judgments that could affect the rest of someone’s life, or in this case, their undergraduate career. Without this peer review, students are doomed to stand and defend themselves before a Board of persons who have been out of touch with the college experience for some time. As it stands, the Ad Board’s status quo membership is unacceptable. Few students even realize the composition of the Board, which is limited to a handful of faculty and several senior administrators. A judicial body so removed from the student body cannot help but be out of touch with the student body, a symptom student involvement would reduce.
Having student representation on the Board will not automatically give an advantage to those students who are duly called before the Ad Board for real offenses. Rather, student membership on the Ad Board will give the Board a much more well-rounded view of the situations with which it is presented. It will help dispel false defenses as well as highlight legitimate concerns that only students, with their proximity to life at Harvard, might be able to discern. It will ensure that the Board is getting an accurate representation of the views and values that modern Harvard students have and can decide whether incidents are isolated or must be dealt with on a much grander scale.
Some have argued that student-judges might jeopardize the confidentiality currently assured by the secrecy of the Ad Board. But as compelling an argument as this may be, it is not warranted. There is no reason why we cannot trust a fellow Harvard student to maintain such standards, yet we feel that we can allow administrators and professors to be trusted. Students on campus who volunteer at hospitals, join the military, work for government agencies, work for lawyers or participate in psychological and/or physical tests or participate in criminal trial juries are entrusted with information that is sometimes much more sensitive than the kind of information routinely brought up in Ad Board hearings. Under circumstances explicitly confidential—which the Ad Board’s are—students have the same reliability as a professor, with the same consequences for any breach of this trust.
To assure that the students on the Board will accurately represent a good portion of the student body and assure that the students on the Board will be independent of the existing Board, the student representative should be chosen by the student body or its representatives in the student council without interference from the University administration. In order to assure that the student placed on the Ad Board is not merely a puppet of the Faculty or staff, students that are to sit on the Ad Board can, for example, be chosen by the council after determining whether the student is qualified and worthy of judging his peers. This process will allow the selection of individuals who will accurately represent the students as well as keep the interests of Harvard University at the top of their agenda.
Adding students to the Board will give students a greater sense of involvement in school administrative policies and allow the administration greater access to student views. Dean Gross should seriously consider having students on the Board, a proposal that is a win-win situation for both the student body and the Ad Board’s currently flawed jurisprudence.
Alejandro G. Ruiz ’05 is a government concentrator in Eliot House.
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