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The sanctions against the final clubs and the subsequent developments caused a stir on Harvard’s campus. Cries of joy for the demise of privilege and classism have once more been met with arguments for freedom of association. Still, the administration refuses to provide all of the College’s undergraduate students with the social spaces they so desperately crave.
The key issue at stake in this entire quagmire is, of course, money. Harvard, as a four-year American residential college, is informally expected to provide its pupils with more than a world-class education. In the best American way, it is a business providing a paid service. We, as its clients, feel entitled to a college “experience” that students in other countries do not have—a college experience that is all about partying and meeting people who will be our best friends for the rest of our lives. To provide that experience and meet those expectations, Harvard must apportion the money it makes accordingly, benefiting every student-client proportionally to what they pay. But that’s not what it is doing.
Think of Harvard like you’d think of an airplane. Everyone is flying in the same direction—the name opens doors, after all—and everyone has paid the same base fare (literally, if you are not on financial aid, or metaphorically, if you are). Yet some of us are lucky enough to be sitting in business class, with better, larger seats that recline more, a larger screen, and real food. Those people are there because, prior to getting into the plane, they had advantages that allowed them to buy a better place to sit. Meanwhile, most of us are sitting in economy, with cramps, oily faces, and no free booze.
Harvard’s new policy seeks to upend the plane’s traditional configuration by razing business class and turning the whole thing into coach. It knows it doesn’t have the money to turn the entire airplane into business, so leveling everyone down seems the way to go. Shutting down final clubs, the administration believes, will force those who were ejected from business class to rejoin the plebeians in economy.
Of course, that’s not going to happen: They will find a way to hold on to their privileges (maybe by renting a proverbial private jet we’ve never seen or heard of) and we’ll just continue to suck on our thumbs as we eat bad airplane food. (Before a war starts in the comments below: This is not a joke about Harvard University Dining Services, but instead part of the metaphor.)
Here’s another idea, though: Why not upgrade all of campus to economy plus? Why not have College-funded house parties more often? Why not create more party spaces in the renewed Houses, which feel like they’ve just gotten more cramped and antiseptic?
The problem here might seem to be one of budget apportionment rather than resource scarcity. The real issue, however, is that we might not actually be flying on the same plane.
The Houses have varying budgets because of alumni donations. An Eliotite and a Matherite pay the same tuition, yet only one gets to go to the famous Eliot Fête dance. Likewise, certain concentrations, like Classics and History of Art and Architecture, have classes offering fully paid excursions to Europe to their students. Classics even has free monthly student-faculty lunches at the Faculty Club. So even though we are all literally or metaphorically paying $70,000 a year for our education, we are most certainly not getting the same service out of that money.
Harvard always claims it has its hands tied when it comes to budget. Indeed, it’s very easy to claim you have no more funds and then go after outside institutions like final clubs, where it is the very consequences of a fractured University environment that causes social malaise. Yet very few are willing to recognize that the “inequality” and “exclusivity” of the final clubs are embedded in Harvard’s own operational structure.
As much as I eschew final club culture—I have yet to set foot on a so-called exclusive social space during my time here—Harvard cannot pelt stones at those Mount Auburn St. mansions when its own house is made of glass. Why can’t the University start by reviewing its own endowment policies instead?
Maybe that will involve saying no to some wealthy donors when they knock on Massachusetts Hall’s door with a check that will not benefit all students equally. But it is my hope that if the administration is going to question final club values, it won’t hop off its moral high horse when offered a targeted investment that will not benefit the majority of the student body.
If you’re going to raze the plane, Harvard, do it by upgrading us all to economy plus—but, most importantly, get us all on the same plane in the first place. Raze to raise, and stick to the principles you say you so proudly espouse.
Arthur S. Lopes ’19 is a History concentrator in Eliot House.
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