Yet again, in a revelation that comes as a shock to exactly no one, we were recently informed that Harvard has been spying on us. Last week, Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Peter K. Bol admitted to secretly installing cameras in select classrooms without the prior consent of either the students or the faculty members, in order to conduct a “research effort” to study student attendance. Which naturally makes me wonder just what kinds of “research efforts” I can get approved if I ask nicely enough.
I know this might be a revolutionary concept to the administration, but if in the future they want to monitor class attendance, they can … take attendance. My middle school used to do it. Essentially, in the beginning of lecture, the teacher reads off a list of every name in the class. Each student will say “here.” Others might answer “present” if they’re smart-asses, and the teacher will mark him off as having attended that particular lecture.
Now I know what you’re thinking. This was an experiment, not an incredibly stupid way to take attendance, so I really should be talking about the ethical ramifications of experimenting on unknowing human subjects. That’s almost beside the point. First of all, secretly taking attendance is the dumbest experiment I have ever heard of, and I took Stat 104, where everyone has to come up with a dumb experiment to pass the course. One kid did a statistical analysis to see if different brands of hot dog bounced different heights when dropped, and even that was a more interesting experiment.
Second of all, if attendance doesn’t matter, but they monitor it anyway, does it still make a sound?
In an email sent after the news was leaked, Vice Provost Bol wrote that he would, “in short order, work to inform all of the students in the courses involved in the study about the fact that their images may have been taken, but were subsequently destroyed” Which is a lot like the NSA saying that they are happy to inform us that they will, at some point in the indeterminate future, let us know that have been monitoring all our online activity ever since Al Gore invented the damn thing. “This was a gap in procedures that is being resolved,” Bol further told us. Hah. I’ll say.
Astute observers will begin to notice the ever-so-subtle trend that the administration does not trust the students or the faculty. Many of us are reminded of those dark, sordid days when news broke that the administration monitored resident dean emails in the aftermath of the Gov 1310 cheating scandal. Perhaps former Dean of the College Evelyn Hammonds is behind the attendance experiment as well?
The lack of trust hardly stops at cyber spying. The administration adamantly refuses to allow the students to spend some more of their own tuition money on student initiatives and clubs, instead spending the money itself. Even the Undergraduate Council can’t swing a measly $250,000 from President Drew G. Faust. Back in February, according UC President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15, Faust explained that she didn’t find it realistic that the UC should expect the money to fall from the sky, apparently confusing the sky with the rounding error of Harvard’s endowment. Of course, that very week, Faust accidentally stumbled upon a $150 million donation from Citadel manager Ken Griffin.
But no matter; the $150 million pales in comparison to Harvard’s campaign to raise $6.5 billion. What, you may ask, will be done with those oodles of money for the students? A new campus center! So while the administration won’t let us spend a measly fraction of a percent of a percent of that money, at least they’re taking some of it to build a sparkling new center for us. Of course, we are then informed that the center will not actually be a student center, and Comrade Mayopoulos is the only student who sat on the planning group. All of which makes the less informed of us wonder exactly whom the campus center will serve. Could be the NSA.
Which brings me back to the complete inability of Faust’s administration to even pretend to put a modicum of trust in the student body it ostensibly serves. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Faust has personally selected the brand of toilet paper distributed to students. She seems too busy to do that, though; she’s booked solidly between raising funds and penning op-eds in USA Today which detail all the ways in which college lets students learn from their environments.
If only our environment wasn’t so circumscribed by email searches and hidden cameras, funding restrictions and a near complete lack of student input. Because it probably takes more than bouncing hot dogs to truly explore and learn.
Jacob R. Drucker ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.