THE CONSTITUTION for a new student government that undergraduates are voting on this week is the best proposal for organizing student action to be put forth as a realistic alternative to the existing student-faculty committees since those committees were set up in 1969. Although clearly no panacea for problems that plague the University, the Constitution could help end the total lack of organization that has undermined recent efforts to oppose the University on major issues. The convention's blueprint for a student government could improve the status-quo, and no other group has seriously offered an alternative. For these reasons, we urge students to vote to ratify the Constitution.
While there can be no guarantee that the proposed assembly will be able to convince the Faculty and administration to yield to it, the government, at the very least, would be able to speak for students as a whole and thereby undercut the all-too-frequent justification for completely ignoring student opinion: "We didn't know what students wanted so we made the decision ourselves." The proposed Constitution is a blueprint for a highly responsive student government--provisions for recall of officers, frequent polling of student opinion, grass-roots meetings between representatives and their constituents, student initiative of referendums binding on the assembly, and the formation of ad hoc study commissions within the assembly on any issue students feel strongly about--will facilitate the kind of student activism on proposed University policies so sorely lacking today. Independent protests will remain a way for a vocal group that disagrees with the majority--represented by the assembly--to demonstrate their opposing views. As well, there will always be a place for groups like the South African Solidarity Committee that take up special causes.
For any group of armchair quarterbacks to sit back and call for what can only be seen as a romanticized vision of a '60s radical government, after the convention has labored for six months to incorporate student views in order to produce a viable proposal for effective student government, is as counterproductive as it is sorely misguided. An activist, grass-roots coalition of students that would stridently demand University cooperation with their wishes may be a lofty ideal, but it can hardly be taken seriously as an alternative to the well-thought-out proposed Assembly. Such a coalition would be too decentralized and too amorphous to do anything really useful to promote students' interests. But more importantly, it would rely on an activist mentality that might not exist at Harvard. Instead of accomplishing modest yet reasonable goals, such a radical attempt would fail miserably. We would be back where we started--perhaps further behind--and students would remain cynical and apathetic.
Too many people hold the basic misconception that the convention, if the Constitution is voted down, will come back year after year with altered versions of the proposal until one passes. The odds against any group, trying to resurrect a different version of student government are slim, and the odds of any group organizing a radical, grass-roots coalition are even slimmer. Harvard students span the breadth of the ideological spectrum--there are probably as many libertarians at Harvard as there are Marxists. In light of this, some form of consensus-building is necessary. The new student assembly will not turn Harvard into Utopia, but it is a sound step in the right direction.
IN VIEW OF the entrenched student apathy and the increasingly conservative attitudes of Harvard students, we think the convention members have chosen a delicate and appropriate path between what is desirable and what is pragmatic. It is a fallacy to believe student assembles are inherently conservative, for they must--to a large extent--represent the views of the students themselves. The problem does not lie in the parliamentary institution itself, but rather in the political outlook of those the institution represents. The recent action by the students at the University of Pennsylvania--where the student government played a major role in the takeover of the administrative building and the consequent winning of significant demands--indicates that, indeed, such student governments can serve as efficient mobilizers of student action.
The convention set the needed vote total for the Constitution's ratification at half the number of undergraduates--over 3100 votes--to ensure that any government will have broad-based support. We urge every student to vote in the election. Collective action depends on compromise--without it you get a stalemate. This stalemate has gone on for far too long. It's time to bring it to an end.