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A Call to the Administration: A Student Perspective on Next Semester

By Carine M. Hajjar
Carine M. Hajjar ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House.

There is no doubt that important conversations are being had about the fate of next semester. Group chats, Zoom calls, and office hours are abuzz with speculations about what Harvard will look like in the fall.

Until now, I, like many students, have felt powerless in the wake of the administration’s decisions about our education and the future of our college experience. We were simply told when to leave, what grades will look like, and how to continue learning. Amid the chaos of the crisis, I was not only willing, but happy to accept this guidance and certainty. Now, however, as I have gained my bearings and as my next semester comes under attack, I can no longer passively accept the administration’s best judgment. It is time for Harvard to listen to its students.

During this time of reflection, I have come to three realizations: First, students should have been consulted about the fall from the beginning. Second, the college cannot go online for an official semester. And third, Harvard must make a decision sooner rather than later.

First off, I am baffled at the fact that we, the students, are not being broadly consulted about the future of our education. As the fate of next semester weighs heavily on our minds, it is imperative that we are given a voice. Harvard, after all, is an academic institution created to cultivate the minds of students. How, then, can it make a decision about the fate of students without their input?

When we were dismissed in March, there was a sense of urgency that excused the administration’s lack of student outreach. Things were bad — there was no time for surveys or panels. Now, after sitting at home for a month staring at a computer for hours a day, I am still waiting for an email that asks what I want out of next semester, let alone if I want a next semester at all.

I call on the administration to seek student opinions through focus groups, discussions, or perhaps, even a vote. They must do whatever it takes to incorporate the student voice into a decision that alters the lives, future careers, and finances of students. I applaud the professors that have taken time out of their courses to ask their students how they are doing and what they would like to see out of next semester. Though this is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. The administration must reach out to the students directly.

And if they don’t, I urge all my fellow Harvard students to redirect your opinions from student-only discussions towards the administration. I too find myself venting in group chats only to realize that the complaints and feasible suggestions are not being presented to the decision-makers. Email and attend office hours with the administration, your professors, and your House faculty deans with thoughtful suggestions. Write public pieces, suggest different scenarios — do whatever you can to present solutions that best benefit Harvard students, employees, faculty, and staff.

Second, I do not, under any circumstances, want to waste a semester at Harvard online. And frankly, it seems that nobody does. This is a viewpoint that has already been endorsed by students. Its implications, however, are so important that it must be repeated.

Given the articulated risks of going back to “normal” in the fall, to me, the most logical solution is for Harvard to suspend the fall semester and start anew in the spring, maybe adding a semester in the summer to make up the time. At the very least, the fall semester should be flexible — perhaps there could be an option to take a couple of classes online. But should this be a full-fledged semester? I certainly hope not.

Let’s face it — if we go online, a huge portion of the student population will seek time off. Can Harvard stop them? Can Harvard accommodate the influx of students when things go back to normal? By pushing off the semester, these difficult questions do not need to be answered. Moreover, students will not have to spend a semester of their Harvard experience online. Harvard will not face the backlash from students and their families that would certainly accompany the shift to an online education.

Going online is not the only terrible idea; going back to campus without a social life will not suffice either. In each of my classes, professors and students alike spend a moment each class lamenting the loss of the in-person authenticity that is undoubtedly a highlight of our education. What’s more, social events, athletics, extracurriculars, and more would be put to the side for another semester. These in-person activities, however, are crucial components of the college experience. I struggle to believe that Harvard students would passively accept yet another semester without these opportunities. A decision must be made that preserves both the education and social integrity of our Harvard experiences.

And finally, if or when this decision is made, it must be made sooner rather than later. As one of the first colleges in the country to vacate students and transfer courses online, our decision carried weight.

If we decide to move our semester or postpone our start to spring, it is almost certain that other academic institutions will follow our mark. This means that for this year, there could be a unified timeline off of which job recruiting, athletics, and graduations could potentially adjust.

I feel now, more than ever, I have to be clear about what I want and what I think is best for my peers: the administration must take student suggestions, they must not go online in the fall for a traditional semester, and they must choose quickly. This is my effort to shape my future at Harvard. I hope other students come forward as well. We have logical answers as we are the ones being affected. We must ensure that an institution built for us, listens to us.

Carine M. Hajjar ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House.

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