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A petition calling on University President Lawrence S. Bacow to declare Election Day, Nov. 3, a University holiday has garnered over 600 signatures. An organizer of the petition emphasized the hope that the designation would confer a “renewed sense of importance” to the day, allowing students, faculty, and staff not only to vote, but to engage in other forms of civic participation, such as working at the polls.
A few days later, Harvard Vice President for Human Resources Marilyn Hausammann wrote to administrators asking them “to ensure that your managers provide scheduling flexibility to your staff members (particularly those who are paid hourly and who are working on-site) as they exercise their right to vote.”
While we appreciate this intermediate administrative step to protect staff and encourage them to vote, mere flexibility does not go far enough. Particularly for many staff for whom Cambridge real estate prices are prohibitive, the journey to their local polling place may be more than is feasible on a University-granted break from an otherwise full working day. Though the effort is laudable, a full University holiday will do more to encourage voting and civic participation. Moreover, in such a historic election, half-measures are insufficient.
Particularly as voter suppression has become an especially relevant point of concern, the University, with its public platform and influence, should be going above and beyond to encourage voting. Such efforts ought to be framed specifically around the importance of resisting the forces that seek to keep voters from turning out on Election Day.
And though the practical effects seem more pressing for staff – constrained as they are, in many cases, by the need to be physically present on campus to perform their professional duties, unlike most students – the symbolic importance of honoring Election Day as a University holiday goes beyond practicality.
Bacow, as an organizer of the petition noted, sent out an email about the importance of voting, encouraging students and community members to vote and reminding them of the historic struggles for voting rights for women, communities of color, and young people. What better way for the University to send a profound message, on campus, across higher education, and across the United States, than to declare a holiday and work assiduously to provide resources to students, faculty, and staff that give them options for how to get involved in the democratic process, wherever in the country (or the world) they may be.
Yes, we recognize some students may take the day as a pure vacation. No effort to induce civic participation will ever be 100 percent successful. But to act merely on that presumption would be depressingly pessimistic. If Harvard can get one more student to vote, that matters. If Harvard can inspire one more university to take proactive steps to encourage and enable students to vote, that also matters.
When else in our lives will students have the importance of voting impressed on them more deeply than when their University takes concrete steps to make voting and poll-working logistically easier in a time of national crisis? What better time in our lives to ask us to wake up to the political realities of our nation and get involved in the never-ending, hard-but-sacred work of self-improvement by ballot? Without a real chance this time, we may never know.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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