"The convention has now took a rest over Sunday, and it ain't like they didn't need it. If they was a doctor in the house his advice to the delegates would be to stay quietly in bed a few days and try and sip down a little clam juice." RING LARDNER
When this reading and examination period vacation is over, what is called a new Student Council will come out of childhood and into bright life. Only it is not quite new, since almost to a man the members have been elected from the old council, and it is not much of a vacation, since there is little evidence that the members have found their now suspended obligations to the Council very strenuous.
And this year's Council has, at least in this respect, not been very different from its predecessors. In past years Councils justified their existence primarily in terms of reports on local subjects, reports which while at times somewhat nebulous or mis-directed, have often served as valuable aids to the Administration. This year's Council has, however, staked its life on a different program: achieving concrete benefits for the students.
The expiring Council did, of course, make reports too. There was the "Ticket Distribution" report which equivocally recommended that undergraduates receive seats in section 30, while former lettermen and Varsity Club members, current residents of section 30, retain their privileged seats. And if the "Food" report was gently termed "ill-advised" by its author, still, the "Growth" report was a thorough and serious argument against expansion. The dignity of the initial draft remains essentially uncompromised by the fact that the Council ground the report into a cornmeal johnnycake supporting "conditional expansion."
The crucial difficulty with the "ill-advised" Food Report and the muddly ticket report was the fact that Administration officers lead the report writers around a seemingly endless series of gorse bushes, round which the intrepid investigators seemed calmly content to trot. Said the ticket report: "We have been unable to obtain an exact accounting for all tickets in Section 31. A cursory observation would seem to indicate that some of these tickets are used by groups other than these listed". The Food Committee was repeatedly promised but never given a copy of the Dining Hall budget.
In these two cases, however, the Council did not exercise its prerogative of refusal, but instead accepted the "cursory examinations" of its committees. Apparently the Council's desire to preserve its "Dining Room Sodality" atmosphere has made it unwilling to make the muscular and even sweaty effort necessary for a reform investigation.
But this year's Council members did not make their successful bids for reelection on the basis of their report program, but on the basis of having provided three direct benefits for the students: the Extension of House parietal hours to midnight on Saturday, the initiation of a mid-term vacation, and the institution of the Rides Service, all worthwhile achievements. Unfortunately, the mismanaged reports and the concrete reforms did not constitute the sum of Council activity. There were a number of items on the debit side which can be chalked up largely to the political nature of the body and its own uncertainty as to its powers and functions.
Council apathy reached a highpoint when the members refused even to make an inquiry into the Treasurer's incapacity to handle his budget. Somewhere the Domestic Scholarship item for $500 got lost in the shuffle, and nobody really seemed to care.
Yet despite the need for funds, which the error generated, the Council followed up its Registration Day pledges by mailing the actual pledge cards to the student contributors, thus forfeiting their only record of who had pledged, and what.
Finally the dire need of the Hungarian refugees became a political football when the Chairman of the Combined Charities pistol-whipped the Council into letting World Universities Service handle the funds for the special relief drive. "If WUS doesn't get the money, I won't run the drive," he said, and added that "you can't tell me how to spend my money." Regardless of the merits of WUS, Combined Charities is and should remain an advisory and administrative arm of the Council.
This is not to say, however, that the Council always gives way under pressure. Its membership in the National Student Association, which takes a substantial mouthful of the Council's budget, has been repeatedly questioned. Each time the Council has reaffirmed its position: Harvard participation in an active fashion can have a beneficial effect on NSA. However accurate this position may have been several years ago, when Harvard was initiating and organizing NSA's entire international division, it is certainly open to question at present, when Harvard fails to participate in an active fashion. To be sure, financial participation has been complete, and the Council has sent a delegate to meetings. But beyond hearing reports on these meetings, the Council has neither given to nor accepted assistance from NSA.
The Student Council could play an influential part in University life, but it must understand its part if it is to have its influence. The Council, in our view, should be a group of students who initiate ideas but who do not necessarily represent anyone but themselves. The center of their activities should be reports--reports which deal with the merits or demerits of the lecture system, the growing professionalism of student activities, the dilemmas facing the House system in a time of change, or any of many other questions which the University is facing and upon which the Administration needs, and is seeking, advice. The Council's reports should be its own, and not the Administration's, and the Council's standard of success is the number of intelligent ideas which it produces. And when the Council does come up with an idea, it should push it, as it did, by and large, in both the parking and parietal questions. The trouble with this year's Council was not so much in what it did do: it had some notable successes and it probably bumbled no more than previous Councils. The trouble lay more in what it failed to do, the fields which it did not consider. To solve this problem, we recommend a little emphasis on originality and less on "campus politicking." Or, if you will, if the clam juice runs a little short, a little nip of brandy neat might do the trick.