Necessary Compromise

A meager budget brought big changes to student life

Crimson file photo

With the University facing an austere new budget and an overhauled academic calendar, student life saw numerous changes in fall 2009 and spring 2010. Budget cuts were the theme of the year and had far-reaching effects across all aspects of student life. Overall, students and the University made the best of the situation with reasonable, cost-effective compromises that generally maintained student happiness.

Starting in the fall, we welcomed the University’s extension of its efforts to “go green.” Harvard received a top spot on the Princeton Review’s 2010 Green Rating Honor Roll, proving that the school is making good on its promise that green is the new crimson. Commendable measures that the University undertook this year involve installing solar trash compactors around campus, including compostable materials at the popular Fly-By eatery in the basement of Memorial Hall, and encouraging students to recycle, leading to a high 55 percent campus-wide recycling rate. We are also proud that Harvard instituted its new Green Building Guidelines for projects costing over $5 million. Such long-term commitments—which have brought the University wide recognition for leadership in the green arena—are worthwhile because they promote habits of sustainability among students and aim to protect the environment. We are also appreciative of the new community garden; the centrally-located plot of land by Lowell House serves as a hands-on classroom, fully functional garden, and an encouraging sign of Harvard’s commitment to sustainability being a part of students’ everyday live.

The University’s commitment to the environment is especially commendable in the face of the severe budget cuts that hit practically every aspect of University operations. Overall, the administration did a good job making reasonable compromises and providing cheaper alternatives to some of its more expensive habits of old. Considering the highly publicized 27 percent plunge in the University’s endowment, student life suffered relatively little. Notably, Quadlings returned to campus to find that their weekend-morning shuttle service had been cut. Though disappointing, this seems to us a reasonable compromise in the face of the original plan to make much more extensive sacrifices—the administration did well to heed student uproar over shuttle cuts and backtrack.

The cut that riled up students most, however, was the cessation of weekday hot breakfast in House dining halls at the beginning of the year. Although not as damaging to students as other cuts that were originally suggested, we still believe the College should listen to students’ requests to bring back eggs in the morning in the Houses, given that the lack of hot breakfast caused so much of an outcry on campus that it became nationally reported. We are glad that the Undergraduate Council in particular was involved in working with the administration to rectify what many students find to be a great injustice. Hot breakfast was a large part of the winning Bowman-Hysen ticket’s election platform, and the new leadership did well to submit to the administration a sensible list of cost-neutral solutions for improving the breakfast situation.

Our commendation of the UC’s actions regarding hot breakfast, however, is not to ignore the general air of incompetence that continued to surround the UC this year. Over the summer, the council attempted to raise $6 million in an ill-conceived and complex strategy to build a new student center at 45 Mount Auburn St. The ineffective campaign barely covered its own operating costs, netting only $700, and out of sheer embarrassment, the UC spun the campaign off as a completely separate entity upon the start of the school year.

Yet the student-center campaign debacle paled in comparison to the election scandal that enveloped the UC later in the year. The Election Commission lost all credibility in our eyes and was the embodiment of gross negligence and irresponsibility due to its failure to address known vulnerabilities in the online-voting system and because of its early release of confidential voting results to the outgoing vice president and the wider community. We were quite glad to hear that the Election Commission will be reformed in the future.

There were, however, a few bright spots with the advent of the Bowman-Hysen administration. A contentious but generally well-regarded effort to create a study-guide library unfortunately fell flat after the UC tried but failed to convince the faculty of its academic merits. By the end of the year, however, the UC successfully managed to work out a deal to have an automated teller machine installed in the old Hilles library, finally filling a void in the wallets of the hundreds of students trapped between Shepard and Linnaean Streets. Additionally, the UC worked with the administration to revamp the Student Initiated Programming fund. In a nod to the legacy of the defunct Party Fund, a third of SIP grant money can now be used to buy alcohol so long as the host does not drink and takes measures not to serve underage guests, making it a very welcome addition to the Harvard party scene.

In a telling corollary, even with ever-stricter alcohol regulation on campus, significantly more students were admitted to Stillman Infirmary for alcohol-related illness than in any previous year. We argue that Harvard’s alcohol policies push students who want to drink, particularly freshmen, to unsafely binge before going to a party rather than drink socially at the party itself. The school’s relatively new amnesty policy, which protects ill students and those who escort them to Stillman from disciplinary action, is a good one. But even if it is only this newfound comfort that is pushing the number of alcohol-related admissions steadily upward, the College ought to be more innovative with how it combats the particularly dangerous drinking culture.

Possibly the greatest development in student life came from the revamped academic calendar. This year, Harvard ended its generations-long tradition of holding first-semester exams after winter break, opting instead to do away with intersession, start and end the school year earlier, and standardize its schedule with those of most other American universities. Although we were originally positive about the calendar change, we were disappointed by the lack of programming over J-Term, as what actually came to fruition was rather different than what was originally planned. We hope that, in the future, more options will be available to students so that they are not forced to stay at home for five weeks.

Overall, the year was a relatively positive one for students. Although we have some complaints, we feel that budget cuts could have had a much more harmful impact than they did in the end.