One Man, One Vote
THE STUDENT COUNCIL
ALTHOUGH WE CONTINUE to doubt the importance of the new student government outlined in the Dowling Report, the formation of that bureaucracy has raised an interesting and symbolically significant issue. In the past few days representatives of campus minority organizations--the Asian American Association, the Black Students Association and the Gay Students Association--have demanded that they be allotted special seats on the executive council of the new committee. The occupants of these seats--who would not be elected by the student body like their colleagues but instead appointed by the minority groups--would have a vote on the new council equal to that of any elected representative.
The demand is rooted in rational fears. Recent years have seen many incidents of harassment, especially directed at gay and Black students. And they have apparently been underrepresented in proportin to their numbers on the Student Assembly. The formation of a new, and perhaps more powerful, student government without the assurance that minority voices will be heard raises worries about new levels of majority domination of student politics.
We share these worries. But we do not endorse the solution recommended by the AAA, BSA and GSA. Our reasoning follows that of many civil rights activists, whose motto for much of the last century was drawn from the language of a Supreme Court case: "one-man, one-vote." We object to tampering with electoral democracy in order to aid one group or interest; we object to such tampering be it by whites in the Southern United States or New York City, or by minorities in something so insignificant as student government. When district lines were redrawn in the Mississippi Delta to end generations of racial gerrymandering, the goal was more than simply giving Blacks greater political clout; it was an issue of fundamental fairness. And so is this.
We are not sure that the political climate is so polarized here as to prevent minority representation under a straight electoral system. Benjamin Schatz '81, for instance, won one of the coveted class marshall spots last spring even though--or perhaps because--he was closely identified with the struggle for gay rights on campus. But minority students are correct in calculating that, even if the politics of race or sexual preference did rule, they would be at a great disadvantage in a normal voting system. Black students, for instance, are widely scattered enough among the Houses that they nowhere form a majority.
To overcome that potential problem, we advocate a system of proportional representation voting similar to the one use in Cambridge municipal elections. The proportional representation scheme weights votes, allowing--should most of them choose to support a single candidate with a number one vote--members of most minority groups to elect one of their number to the council. Our scheme also avoids another possible drawback to the special seat plan, since we do not assume that a group like the BSA or the AAA represents all Blacks or Asians on this campus. Those groups are, however, the best organized minority voices on campus, and as such, should be allowed non-voting seats on the council, from which to lobby or persuade.
In short, we side with the AAA, the GSA, and the BSA in their demands for representation. But their proposal repudiates electoral democracy, a step we are not yet prepared to take.