Unlike the national elections two weeks age, the new Student Council constitution upon which the College votes today seems to have aroused little public controversy. Mud-slinging and ballyhoo have been at a minimum, despite the fact that many of the issues at stake have been hotly contested at various intervals during the past 14 years.
The new charter continues trends which began in 1936. These trends have diminished the council's disciplinary powers over the individual student; they have made the group's primary function that of investigation and inquiry into University policies and programs; they have made the body more elective than appointive. In short, formerly a government of the students, the organization has gradually become, as its name indicates, a "council," by and for the students.
If the new constitution receives the necessary two-thirds approval today for ratification, it will go into effect immediately, and under its terms nominations for a new Student Council will open tomorrow.
The major changes in the revised charter fall into five categories: period of tenure, appointments, nominations, freshman representation, and rights to initiative.
TENURE: In the future, council elections will take place in the fall instead of the spring; this means that members will serve from February to February instead of from September to June. There are two reasons why these changes have been proposed: 1) under the new system the retiring council will still be in college to help orientate the incoming group; 2) seniors no longer will have to serve during their final term--a time when they are busy with General Examinations and theses.
APPOINTMENTS: This is, perhaps, the most significant phase of the new constitution. Under the proposed revisions, the council is obligated to appoint from four to six men by November 1 to serve until the end of the spring term, primarily "to undertake advisory projects." In the past the group could make similar appointments, but since it was not obligated to do so, it often failed to make the effort. Members of the present council feels that the new appointees can perform valuable functions, such as investigating the football situation or the problem of scholarships at Harvard. They insist that these men be appointed by November 1 so that they will add continuity to a council which will have an annual February turnover. Some observers feel that the November 1 stipulation will only add confusion, since the appointees will be elected to carry out the ideas of one council and will serve most of their tenure under another council. The revisers dispute this argument, claiming that the appointive body will work only on "long-range" projects that carry over from one year to another, despite changes in personnel.
NOMINATIONS: Candidates for the council will be nominated by petition. Twenty signatures will be required for house representatives and twenty-five for class representatives. House Committees may nominate men whom they consider suitable and who have not filed previous petitions. This system replaces the method of nomination by open house meetings. Last spring the irregularities and unreliability of this method brought a storm of protest from the student body and helped start an unsuccessful crusade to abolish the council.
FRESHMAN REPRESENTATIVES: In previous years the Union Committee has sent two representatives to the council without vote. Now, if the constitution is ratified, the Union Committee will appoint two men to serve with vote during the spring term. At the end of the year the freshman class will elect two representatives to serve the first half of their sophomore year, also with vote.
INITIATIVE: Under the last constitution it was the council's duty "to hold a referendum in exceptional cases, where widespread feeling demands, or when a petition signed by 200 students requests it, on any proposal concerned with student affairs," Meeting on October 29, the council decided to abolish the students' right to the initiative because it feared that any "crackpot" proposal could muster 200 signatures and that it would be swarmed under with unreasonable requests for referenda. It argued that the council was theoretically a responsible group and could exercise "common sense" on matters of public debate. This point of view, many observers felt, developed from a fear of future "abolish the council" drives similar to the one that took place last spring. After three days and the only show of public disapproval which the new constitution has met, the group reversed itself and restored the old provision for the initiative, making 500 signatures a prerequisite for consideration. It also made 500 (instead of 200) signatures necessary for students to submit suggestions for constitutional amendments.
How the council has become a less dissciplinary and a more democratic, advisory group during the past 14 years is best shown by the various constitutional provisions it has adopted and abandoned in that period.
Prior to 1936 and as late as 1947, the membership of the council consisted of nine elective men and eight appointees. In 1946 there was considerable objection by student groups to the undemocratic character of this situation. Reacting to public opinion the 1947, constitution stipulated that 15 upperclassmen had to be elected by the undergraduate body and two freshmen chosen by the Union Committee. There was also a clause which said that the council could (but did not have to) appoint three additional members. This clause was inserted only at the last minute at the insistence of a small minority who foresaw the shortcomings of an entirely elective body.
Henry M. Silveira '51, president of the present Student Council agrees with the 1947 minority. "If the council is entirely elective," he insists, "we don't get all the best people." The new constitution, which obligates the group to appoint from four to six members, reflects a slight swing away from the predominant 1947 point of view. It enables the council to add to its ranks men who will be free from politics and who, though worthy, may have failed to win in elections.
The differences between the present student rights of initiative and amendment and those which existed prior to 1936 show a remarkable gain in student democracy; fourteen years ago no students (except council members) possessed these privileges at all.
Since 1936, the council has lost many disciplinary rights. It can no longer exercise "direct jurisdiction over individual students" or "summon before it individual students for questionings;" it is no longer required to create "a general sentiment that is in a question of individual honor to maintain strict attention to scholastic duties."
Formerly, the group could "obtain through the college office necessary information pertaining to the undergraduate body, such as marks, cuts, absences from Cambridge, etc, for the purpose of having at all times exact data so that it might give warnings to individuals, teams, etc." Gone are the days too when it was, constitutionally, an arm of the Faculty, designed "to execute all further powers the Faculty might see fit to grant it."
In 1936 the council was required "to cooperate with the Committee on Athletics in eradicating any evils in the conduct of athletics." Its present influence in this sphere is far less specifically stated and would come under the duty "to undertake advisory projects . . . to evaluate University policy towards undergraduates and to advise University officials." This broadening of the council's "implied powers" of investigation at the expense of specific disciplinary and regulatory duties is typical of the way the group has changed functionally and constitutionally during the past 14 years