The Coop's Coup

The results last--week of the Coop by-law referendum indicate what a farce the entire election procedure was. Under the new scheme, elections for non-student seats have been abolished. Instead, the stockholders, a self-perpetuating body of 11 Coop trustees, will choose the non-student board members. An election procedure will be maintained for student board members.

This is small consolation in light of the history of the Coop. Student board members have been notoriously uninquisitive and unknowledgeable concerning Coop policies. Non-student board members, however, have often successfully challenged Coop policies they thought were illegal or detrimental to Coop members.

For example, former non-student board member Donald E. Steele had quire often spoken out on Coop policies he felt were wrong after the Coop management had proved unresponsive to his protests. Steele exposed illegal rebate practices and revealed Coop policies that threatened the existence of the rebate itself. He often blew the whistle on mislabeling practices and questioned the salaries and benefits of Coop executives.

The Coop management tried for years to get rid of Steele but he was consistently reelected by the Coop membership, until he moved out of state last year. Under the new system, Steele would never get elected. This year another student Coop member, Brad Marvin, planned to run for the board. But the Coop management had apparently had enough of that crap with Steele.

The election process seemed a little strange from the start. Ballots were mailed to Coop members with letters from top Coop executives in support. Some of the arguments were amazing. The election procedure might allow a minority to gain representation on the board, Coop members were told, and this minority's interests might be counter to the membership's. But no one at the Coop could identify which minority this might be.

One board member argues that the old system made it too easy for renegades like Steele to be reelected because the membership would vote for someone like him just in keep an eye on things. He cannot say what was wrong with that. Another argues that the election made it difficult to attract top quality Harvard alumni who might find an election humiliating. He does not say how he knows that Coop members would want someone on the board who found an election humiliating.

What with only 35 percent of the Coop membership voting (after the deadline had been extended several weeks) clearly the election was rammed past a disinterested and misinformed membership. The result is a Harvard Coop less responsive to the wishes of its members than ever.