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According to a recent investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education, national political polarization has permeated the governance structure of American public colleges and universities, resulting in a lack of trust in university governing boards. Many public flagship university board members undergo a political-appointment process, whether it be through direct appointment by governors or with the approval of lawmakers. The Chronicle found that the appointment process for governing boards is oftentimes controlled by one political party, who are most often Republicans despite the liberal-leaning nature of most college campuses. Board members across the nation’s public flagship campuses or state systems have also poured at least $19.7 million into political campaigns and partisan causes within their institution’s states.
So what are the effects of this political polarization and the disconnect between the political leanings of the governing boards and the campus community? One example in which this divide is evident is the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of university communities whose governing boards decided to require them to return to campus this fall — often with limited infection control measures cricitized by experts — were critical of their own governing boards’ handling of the decision. In these instances, the political and financial motivations of those that set policy for the universities are quite literally at odds with the health and safety of those they are meant to serve.
This phenomenon is deeply alarming. The fabric of our lives as students should not be determined by the whims of people whose loyalties lie elsewhere. And it is not just isolated to the politics of public colleges and universities — in fact, Harvard’s own governance structure finds itself in a unique political position.
We believe that Harvard must engage politically on the national stage. In the past, in fact, we’ve been skeptical about our own University’s claims that its leadership is and should remain apolitical, in the context of prison and fossil fuel divestment. We’ve lauded Harvard when it has taken political stances and criticized it for failing to take others. Often what appears as a political statement is actually a moral one, especially during the Trump administration, when civil rights have been under constant attack.
But Harvard must also reflect on the morality behind its own internal decisions, whether seemingly political or not. When does Harvard choose to take a stand against sexual assault and when does it not? When does Harvard turn a blind eye to issues in its own police department? When does it benefit from tax breaks on property that take money away from city budgets?
Harvard should be political. But its political nature must extend to a reflection on internal policies as well as national ones, for these two approaches cannot be separated. Our own leaders and governing boards must be held to the same level of scrutiny that we expect Harvard to hold our national government to.
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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