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Students Infuriated After Cue Guide Responses Altered

By Kevin Sun, Crimson Staff Writer

In early September 1985, student editors of the CUE Guide—the Committee of Undergraduate Education’s yearly student review of professors and teaching fellows—voiced concerns about administrative censorship in that year’s guide. In a preface to the guide, the editors contended that a Harvard official had pressured them to make revisions to criticisms of several instructors, such as the deletion of words such as “arrogant” and “condescending.”

Barbara S. Okun ’86, Editor-in-Chief of the CUE Guide at the time, stated that Dean K. Whitla, director of the Office of Instructional Research and Evaluation, had looked over the write-ups in mid-July of that year and objected to the “harsh tone” of several reviews. He allegedly stated that the staff of the CUE guide would have to “pack their bags” unless changes—which he referred to as “suggestions”—were made. Okun added that Whitla threatened to cancel the publication of the book if his demands were not met.

Okun said in a 1985 interview with the Crimson that 17 of 250 write-ups in the guide were altered in some way, including descriptions of professors such as Stephen J. Gould, Brendan A. Maher, Lewis H. Lockwood, and Bernard Bailyn.

For example, in a review of Bailyn’s Core course Historical Studies B-31: “The Revolutionary Transformation of America,” the original statement “one-fourth of respondents ... find him arrogant or condescending” was changed to “find him somewhat distant and firm in his opinions.”

These types of alterations “fail to convey the intensity of the criticism” and “sometimes misrepresent the nature” of the anonymous evaluations, the editors said. They argued that these types of changes were “undermining” the CUE Guide’s “integrity and objectivity.”

Okun still recalls the strong feelings associated with what she and the CUE editing staff felt was censorship.

“We had worked hard to try and accurately reflect what students had to say about their lecturers, reading through hundreds and hundreds of student questionnaires, and we did not want our work to be compromised by what was clear arm-twisting,” Okun wrote in an email to The Crimson last week.

Steven E. Ozment, former associate dean for undergraduate education and the CUE’s faculty advisor, said of the alleged censorship in an interview in 1985, “If it walks like a duck and acts like a duck, I guess it’s a duck.”

As a result of criticism by the student editors, then-Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence said that he and other officials were mistaken in asking student editors to alter the negative criticisms of professors. “It was our fault,” he said in an interview in 1985.

Following the incident, the Faculty Council was scheduled to convene to discuss what policies should be implemented to prevent such problems in the future.


As the controversy over the alleged censorship became widely known on campus, issues of imprecise policy concerning editorial review by administrators and student editors were brought to light. The question of editorial control was complicated by the fact that the University provided the $65,000 of funding for the project, while the students worked to process, organize, and produce the content.

There was some precedent for administrative intervention: in 1976, the Faculty Council had discussed the Guide four times, and made several important rulings that affected the format of the Guide, including the stipulations that students could not include grade distributions of the course in their reviews, and that one of the questions from the course survey be removed (“How well organized is the instructor’s speaking style?”).

But Okun said the de facto policy at the time of the controversy appeared to favor placing editorial freedom in hands of student editors.

“I always thought that [the CUE Guide] was editorially independent. That’s the assumption that we’ve worked on over the past couple of years,” Okun said in a 1985 interview. “I think it should be editorially free.”

Students on the Undergraduate Council also voiced their concerns about the alleged censorship.

“I can’t see how they could conscientiously avoid consulting the Undergraduate Council,” said Brian R. Melendez ’86, the council’s outgoing chairman, in a 1985 interview. “For them to go ahead and take action would not only be an affront to the undergraduate community, but also hypocritical.”

“I’d be very concerned if they didn’t consult us,” said Brian C. Offutt ’87, chairman of the UC’s Academics Committee in October 1985.


While the student editors of the guide and concerned student representatives awaited the results of the Faculty Council’s deliberations on editorial policy for the CUE Guide, Whitla released a letter that charged the student editors with “a failure to be honest.”

“I did not, as stated, threaten people’s summer jobs, nor suggest that this guide would not be published,” Whitla wrote. “I did not have the authority to halt publication nor did I, at any point, presume to have that authority.”

While Whitla’s remarks complicated the original account given by Okun and the other editors, the process of revising CUE Guide editorial policy continued.

By late October, members of the student-faculty committee established to evaluate the CUE Guide’s policies rallied unanimously around a proposal by Professor of Biology Robert M. Woollacott, which suggested that the Undergraduate Council assume responsibility for the book.

By doing so, the book’s editorial autonomy and credibility would be protected while its official legitimacy would be removed, thus addressing previous concerns that the guide would be misused by departments to judge their teaching fellows and tenure candidates, said David S. Hilzenrath ’87 in an opinion piece in The Crimson at the time.

An abrupt reversal of opinion emerged several weeks later in November when the faculty members of the committee voiced their support for continued faculty and administrative oversight of the CUE.

Ozment said that it was “extremely likely” that the faculty would not fund the CUE if they had no control over the book.

By December, a decision was reached that student editors should determine the book’s contents but not its editorial policy, and this agreement finally yielded the autonomy that students had desired, while maintaining the authority of the faculty in policy decisions.

Faculty Secretary John R. Marquand said that members of the Faculty Council “felt it important that the guide have general credibility with students.”

—Staff writer Kevin Sun can be reached at

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FASCommencement 2011Class of 1986