Student Councils at Yale Undergo Periodic Births, Usually Die Soon
Some Undergraduates Want One; Opposed By School Wheels
Despite several earnest tries and almost annual petitions, Yale has never had a student council for more than five years at a time.
The present complete absence of a council is sort of an anomaly in the Yale community which claims to mold its sons particularly as statesmen, civic leaders, and administrators. A little squadron of committees exists to handle social activities, elections, and certain class events, but the duties of each are so specific and limited that no prestige is attached to membership.
These minor committees fulfill what the Harvard student council would call its administrative functions. The only student group that funnels undergraduate opinion to the university administration consists of four men chosen annually from the senior class by the Dean.
This maze of committees and delegations works pretty well, but occasionally the Yale undergraduates really get aroused over something--say inadequate snow removal in front of Woolesley Hall--and then a clamor for a focus of student opinion goes up.
Such clamor has in the past been pretty well squelched by tradition, some student hostility, much student apathy, and by the Yale Daily News. The News wields terrific influence at Yale. Its editors sparkle brightest in the Eli hierarchy of "wheels." One man, the chairman, dictates policy for its editorial page and, in the past, he has been loathe to share his powerful position with any other group. No other organization has tried to speak for undergraduates.
Under the current system, the Chairman of the News takes charge of any undergraduate activity that doesn't fit into the jurisdiction of one of the minor committees. The News letter column is a forum for student gripes and opinions.
Besides being jealously opposed by the News, plans for a council have always faced opposition from the secret societies which blanch at the thought of having over-zealous student politicians trying to control what goes on in their tomb-like structures. Fraternity men similarly fight any proposal for a council in fear that a council might eventually dictate the percentage of alcohol in the Sunday morning milk punch.
The last extended attempt to set up a student council took place in December 1946 when Dean DeVane and several interested students polled the undergraduates and found Yale men favored a council by an astounding 2,540 to 501. Acting on the basis of this poll, the freshman class living on the old campus and the ten Colleges elected representatives to put together a constitution for the proposed council.
The constitution committee worked until late spring when it brought out a draft which asked for a body resembling what many Harvard undergraduates think a council should be--a purely advisory one.
While the constitution writers had been haggling, the News, the secret socities, and the fraternities woke up to what they considered a grisly peril. The News blasted the proposal in print while the secret society and fraternity men carried on an effective word-of-mouth anti-`council campaign. When the students voted in May, they gave the constitution a 2,199 to 1,851 majority, 501 short of the two-thirds necessary for passage.
This was in line with a cherished Yale policy of no student government. Elis first expressed contempt for fellow student authority in 1830 in what has since come to be known as the Conic section Rebellion. The revolt was inspired by a combine in the sophomore class that took exception to the way students had to recite on conic sections.
The faculty summoned the rebels, who issued another manifesto saying, "The gentlemen of the faculty are also informed that we can hereafter obey no summons to appear individually before them." Their classmates balked at the ultimatum, however, and the rebellions 40 sophomore leaders were expelled.
Nine years later, the Yale administration tech another swipe at unrestrained student leadership and abolished the position of class leader. Each Yale class had usually elected its finest specimen as Class Bully. His official duty, for which he was equipped with a fine ebony mace, was to lead his class when, they warred with New Haven townies. The 1839 Class Bully was a game gent who, as a gag, led his class in a town and gown riot on commencement day just as the procession of the president and dignitaries started. The president tried to squelch the riot, but failed. The sheriff and the Governor of Connecticut had no better luck. Yale decided the next day that its reputation would be on steadier ground if it did away with the Class Bully. The position of a class leader never made a comeback.
Recently, a new, still small bid for a student council got started at Yale after an undergraduate monthly of fact and opinion, "Ex-Veritas" ran a story this fall urging a council for Yale which could bring project beyond the planning stage suggested by publications or small organizations.
Some undergraduates further agitated the council issue by asking for adoption of a Princeton-type honor system at Yale Cheating is a problem of increasing concern to deans and students. A substantial number of students think the honor system is the answer since it could appeal to the "Yale Man" morality in each student. The deans, however, are of the opinion that the traditional code of honor which forbids a student from tattling on another would make the system ineffective. A need for focussing student opinion on this problem might create a council. If it did, the new council would probably follow the tradition of its predecessors and be very short lived.