Harvard students said they are considering boycotting the inauguration of the university's new president, Drew Faust, this weekend in response to a decision by the administration to abolish an undergraduate Party Fund.
The interim dean of Harvard College, David Pilbeam, said last week that the $1,700 a week in Party Grants that are used to fund student parties were contributing to underage drinking.
In response, students said the decision to terminate Party Grants would only push underage students to drink off-campus, or to more dangerous environments, and highlighted the administration's disregard for students.
"Our concern is that the administration may be seeking to protect the public image of the university rather than the public safety of individuals by looking like they're taking a hard line on drinking," the president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, Ryan Peterson, said. "It's not worse than at any other school, but like any college campus, drinking is a part of social life."
Colleges and universities in recent years have been under pressure to reform their alcohol polices following increased awareness of binge drinking on campus, and a series of student deaths on campuses. This year, New York University for the first time is requiring all students to undergo alcohol-screening questioning. Every student-run event at Columbia University must provide a "social, educational, or cultural theme, and may not have the availability of alcohol as its focus."
In a letter dated October 2, Mr. Pilbeam wrote that "institutional funds can never be used to sponsor private events with alcohol that the College has no way of regulating," and that university dollars were funding parties where the "focus is on drinking."
Ms. Faust, who was appointed to become Harvard's first woman president earlier this year after Lawrence Summers abruptly resigned, is scheduled to be formally inaugurated this weekend. A student leader said he received hundreds of e-mail messages expressing shock at the administration's decision, and that students were considering staging a walkout to disrupt the storied ceremony.
Students are aiming to reach a compromise with the administration today to salvage the Party Grants, which currently pay for themed parties such as the "no-pants party," "Calimocho" get-togethers where students drink a syrupy mixture of Diet Coke and red wine, and get-togethers for small groups of friends watching movies in their dorms with kegs of beer.
To qualify for the Party Grants, students are supposed to advertise their parties, provide nonalcoholic beverages, serve food, and distribute information about sexual assault.
The funded parties are most popular with freshman and sophomores exploring different social groups on campus, students said. Harvard students have the option of paying $75 a semester to help fill the Party Grant coffers. The undergraduate council gave out more than $100,000 for social events last year.
"Room parties are a big component of social life on campus," the president of the Harvard Crimson, Kristina Moore, said. "The roaming freshman horde stop off wherever they hear there's a party. Underage students who want to drink or who don't have an alternate social life will find themselves socially frustrated or in worse situations."