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Including students on a committee whose designated job is to address the immediate and long-term future of student life at Harvard would seem to be a no-brainer. And yet last month’s initial announcement of the committee to address undergraduate life in relation to Harvard’s planned new campus in Allston included no current students. Luckily, after pressure from the Undergraduate Council and vocal student activists, the University agreed shortly before winter break to put current undergraduates on the undergraduate life committee. This is a good start, and administrators would do well to incorporate student voices in the makeup of more of the five Allston planning committees.
The planning committees will shape the expansion of Harvard into Allston and the expansion will, in turn, shape the future of Harvard for all of its students. The committee on undergraduate life will have the particularly noteworthy task of discussing the possibility of moving one or more undergraduate Houses into Allston. As the administration ultimately recognized, decisions that could affect undergraduate life so monumentally should be made with a current working knowledge of undergraduate life. While the other members of the undergraduate life committee have experience with students, they cannot be as qualified as current undergraduates to provide the necessary student perspective.
The current members of the undergraduate life committee have been touted for experience with students, but their experience is not nearly comprehensive enough. Committee co-Chair and Divinity School Dean William A. Graham may have informed views on undergraduate life as a former Currier House master; but a House master only receives an indirect perspective on the lives of undergraduates—a view that cannot rival the one seen by students themselves.
The other co-chair of the committee, Athletic Director Robert L. Scalise, primarily interacts with student athletes in his administrative capacity. And as the overseer of athletic facilities that would be competing for the same prime real estate as a potential undergraduate House, it is hard to imagine Scalise acting on the committee as an unfailing advocate for all students.
Beyond the undergraduate life committee, the administration ought to consider including undergraduates and recent alums on all five of the planning committees. Students will be primary consumers of the future Allston campus, and while current undergraduates notoriously hold little political power to exert in University-wide decisions, including their perspective on Allston planning would be a prudent move. Undergraduates certainly have valuable perspectives to add to discussions of planning for science and technology and for housing, culture and urban life in Allston—subjects to which two other planning committees are dedicated.
And whatever the planning committees decide, as the Allston construction project is into the next decades, Harvard will undoubtedly call upon its alums to foot the bill. If current students and recent graduates are included now, they will be more satisfied with the eventual plans and more likely to donate to their completion.
In the coming years, five immensely important planning committees will mold the future of Harvard. It should have been obvious from the outset that students should be included on the undergraduate life task force. Now, administrators can expand the important and necessary role for students in this watershed planning stage by inviting students to hold seats on the other committees as well.
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