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The Undergraduate Council recently announced a partnership with Harvard Business School’s edX platform, HBX. The partnership, which involves UC promotion of HBX course offerings, will generate $1500 of revenue this year and a minimum of $3000 the following year. It is not surprising that the UC took the opportunity: The partnership comes in the same year that UC leadership sat down with University President Drew G. Faust and campaigned for $250,000 to fund student organizations. Though we understand that the UC must fund student groups out of an inadequate budget, this partnership raises a number of concerns. We urge the UC to maintain its impartiality in promoting organizations to students.
Among several other purposes, the preamble to the UC’s Constitution and Bylaws identifies “safeguard[ing] academic freedom and student rights” as one of its primary objectives. While advertising HBX courses does not necessarily infringe upon academic freedom or students’ rights, we do believe that the UC advertising certain programs over others violates an implicit impartiality in their promise to defend our rights and be our advocacy group.
The UC does seem to be aware of the implications of such a partnership, and UC President and Vice-President addressed the conflict of interest in an interview with Crimson editorial board staff writer Dhruv A. Pillai ’17. UC President Gus Mayopoulos ’15 said, “We feel like HBX is a great program—it would improve anyone’s educational opportunities, and so we feel comfortable partnering with them because we don’t see this as something that is only serving the UC, but is also a benefit to students.” Mayopoulos and UC Vice President Sietse Goffard ’15 went on to say that this partnership would not be a precedent for future partnerships with organizations not affiliated with Harvard.
Mayopoulos’s point that HBX is a fundamentally positive organization that would benefit students ignores certain issues in this scenario. Though the organization may be positive, why is HBX the only Harvard educational offering that is being promoted by the UC? Numerous other organizations on campus could be just as edifying and perhaps more valuable to Harvard undergraduates than an online business course.
Certainly the current arrangement is beneficial for all parties involved; HBX gets publicity, the UC receives badly needed funds, and Harvard undergraduates are provided with information about an opportunity to further educate themselves. The precedent that this partnership sets, however, is troubling. Should clubs that generate more revenue have the ability to receive UC sponsorship, thereby precluding other clubs from the same PR potential? If the UC can promote HBX in return for scheduled payments, it raises the possibility of future arrangements where the UC advertises for specific a cappella groups or service organizations.
Though the arrangement as it stands is fairly harmless, we urge the UC to not sign onto any analogous agreements with other Harvard organizations. The UC should hold itself to the highest standards of impartiality and equal opportunity for all organizations on campus.
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