Finding a Voice

The UC’s student-administrator meeting was a good first step

UC President Senan Ebrahim ’12 has dedicated his presidency to advocating for a greater level of student-faculty communication.  Last year, the UC passed his signature piece of legislation calling for the creation of the Harvard University Forum for Change, which would entail two hour-long meetings between students, faculty, and administrators per semester.  To the end of advancing the goal of heightened student-administrator communication, on Oct. 23, the UC hosted an open forum with Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, and President Drew G. Faust.  The discussion was limited to the oft-discussed issue of campus social space and the thoroughly uncontroversial question of secondary fields.  We are grateful to the UC for setting up this meeting, since the average student suffers from an unfortunate lack of access to administrators.  While this meeting was far from perfect, we believe that many of its weaknesses will lessen upon repetition.  Whatever imperfections prevented this most recent forum from being fully effective ought not dissuade the UC from continuing to pursue the goal of heightened student-administrator communication.

It’s clear that the Oct. 23 forum was far from perfect.  Roughly half in attendance were UC representatives, suggesting that the audience was not the cross-section of the student body many would have hoped.  Additionally, the topics discussed (social space and secondary fields) were too uncontroversial to generate productive and meaningful discussion.  While Harvard students do care about social space, the tenor of the discussion was far from the kind of frank productive discourse conducive to a healthy student-administrator relationship. Furthermore, the administrators’ lack of forthrightness in their answers to student questions precluded the kind of open dialogue that we all hope to see in the future Forum for Change.

However, despite these flaws, the student body on the whole benefitted from the chance to meet with administrators.  We think that this type of mega-office hour is a worthwhile medium for students to speak their mind. After all, the single hour per semester that Dean Hammonds and President Faust offer for office hours is far from sufficient—especially considering that there have been occasions on which this small attention has been canceled due to the administrator’s scheduling conflicts.

While we fully support the UC’s effort to improve administrator-student relations, we would also like to impress upon our elected representatives the importance of the small-yet-tangible changes that they can and have achieved that improve students’ lives.  Past UC accomplishments like the restaurant discounts instituted earlier this year have created demonstrable benefits for Harvard Undergraduates.  Larger attempts at systemic change should not come at the expense of the “bread-and-butter” accomplishments that we as students expect and enjoy.

At the end of the day, the current system of student-administrator communication—centered around a handful of committees with largely UC reps sitting on them—is just not enough.  While we understand that President Faust serves the entire University community, Dean Hammonds ought to make more of an effort to seek student opinion in a systematic way.  Participating in more meetings like the one on Oct. 23 would be a great way to achieve this goal, especially if it leads to the realization of UC President Ebrahim’s Forum for Change.