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As I have aged and moved through Harvard, I’ve taken the place less and less seriously. This is warranted, in my humble opinion, because of the sheer pretension demonstrated by the faculty, indifference displayed by the administration, and insanity displayed by the student body. In order to maintain a healthy mental outlook, one can’t take too seriously the professor who doesn’t bother to show up to class, the administration’s efforts to “stop” underage drinking, or the kid in your dining hall who talks to himself and wears shorts when it’s minus five outside.
But every now and then, after a particularly easy week of work, a smooth practice, or an eventful weekend, I sometimes question whether my skeptical outlook on all things Harvard is really warranted. “Hey,” I sometimes tell myself, “that was really pretty college, wasn’t it!” Well, not quite, but there are occasions where this place seems to be moderately less cold, callous, and uncaring than it usually is.
Any lingering suspicions I had about the true nature of Harvard’s relationship with its students, however, were totally destroyed not long before spring break, when I went to purchase the materials necessary for the submission of my senior thesis—supposedly the crowning achievement of my academic career.
I should first note that, as far as theses go, underclassmen should treat the hype skeptically: Writing a senior thesis is not the most difficult thing in history. Most horror stories come from terrible procrastinators who didn’t start any serious writing until January. So my bitterness on the subject stems not from any latent trauma or caffeine-induced health problems.
In fact, I went dutifully to the Coop in good time to purchase the acid-free paper and spring binders that my Government Department senior thesis writer’s handbook told me I needed in order to submit my thesis. Since this material was mandatory for all thesis writers, I assumed the expense to be moderate, 20 to 30 dollars at most. Imagine my surprise, then, when the total for my 300 sheets of prized, acid-free paper (at just over 100 pages long, my thesis required just over one 100-sheet package) and two spring binders rang up to a whopping 93 dollars.
Not only did I voluntarily agree to write a massive paper that took sustained effort throughout the entire year, I had to pay a pretty large sum of money for the privilege! At a school with financial and technological resources as fearsome as Harvard’s, the current system is nothing short of a disgrace.
First of all, why can’t departments simply provide their senior thesis writers (supposedly their most talented and motivated students) with enough paper and binders to print out their thesis? Why, in this day and age, are we still even bothering to kill trees by printing out theses in the first place? Surely we can we just e-mail the wretched thing to the department, and have them worry about distributing it to the faceless and nameless graders who might, amid their far-more-important research priorities, find time to decide the ultimate fate of our Harvard degree?
There are some good, and some spurious, reasons to think that Harvard really doesn’t give a whit about its undergraduates. For my money, though, the most convincing example is the continuation of an outdated, expensive, and time-consuming system of thesis distribution that places an unfair burden on students, and requires them to pay money in order to do more work.
Mark A. Adomanis ’07, as Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Eliot House.
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