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More (Foreign) Bodies

Expanding enrollment would improve the College

By Hannah E. S. wright and Nicholas F.B. Smyth

With the question of Allston looming, last week’s discussion of undergraduate housing across the river made clear that University President Lawrence H. Summers is considering expanding the size of the undergraduate body. This move—which would boost College enrollment by roughly a thousand—would be aimed primarily to increase the number of international students in attendance. While critics decry the loss of community and detriment to the College’s educational standards, it’s clear that expanding enrollment will only result in an increasingly diverse and vibrant population.

Currently, fewer than 500 of the 6,400 undergraduates at Harvard are international students. This number is unacceptable if the University claims commitment to exposing undergraduates to a wide variety of lifestyles and cultures. As many students cite their interactions with their peers as the key formative experience during their four years on campus, the potential decision to increase the international population seems incredibly straightforward.

More international students would add excitement to Harvard’s often quiet social life—for example, replacing beirut with Spanish botelon. They would also enrich section discussions, providing perspectives from outside the area between Boston and Los Angeles. Finally, they might even bring worldly tastes to the Square’s restaurants, perhaps forcing Tommy’s to improve its vile pizza and encouraging the Science Center Greenhouse to serve real sushi.

But it might seem easier to just increase the number of admitted international students while maintaining the current class size. Though this approach could have limited success in increasing the number of foreign applicants, it also involves decreasing the number of American students—something of which the University is rightly wary. With a significant number of admissions already going to legacies, athletes and other prominent groups, increasing the quota for foreign students only cuts the number of spots for your “average” American high school student even further. This makes attempts at increased racial and socioeconomic diversity even more difficult.

Claims that expansion of the undergraduate body might diminish the school’s reputation by raising the acceptance level and increasing the number of students who could tout the Harvard name is both elitist and absurd. There are plenty of similarly respectable universities with much larger undergraduate populations than the 7,400 that would be created by adding 1,000 undergraduates—Harvard turns down thousands of well-qualified students a year—and acceptance rates would likely maintain their present level as increased visibility of international students on campus would encourage greater numbers to apply. Summers deserves credit for surprising those critics who claims he puts the University’s reputation over quality of life and education for its students.

And the quality of education can only improve. The College is in the midst of an intense curricular review, designed to examine and address current weaknesses in undergraduate education. New standards will be set for class size and variety, teaching fellow quality and academic advising. The College expansion would be further down the line—perhaps two decades from now, when the Allston projects are finished and the policies suggested by the curricular review have been implemented in full. Planning for additional students will not only be forced to conform to the new educational standards, but it will also encourage another phase of faculty growth, possibly better than the last. Reaffirming a commitment to internationalization would draw in professors from areas of the world currently underrepresented in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Rather than hurting the Harvard educational experience, these additional students and faculty would enhance it. Those of us who are already lucky enough to be here would be wise to welcome another thousand students to our campus.

Nicholas F. B. Smyth ’05 is a government concentrator in Dunster House. Hannah E.S. Wright ’06 is a social studies concentrator in Lowell House. They are both Crimson editorial editors.

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