From Divestment to Elvis: Buying In Or Branching Out?

The Undergraduate Council

When the Undergraduate Council was first formed five years ago, Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III predicted a short life for the new 89-member body. The council, Harvard's first student government in more than 12 years, would address a limited list of issues and then dissolve, he said at the time.

"I had a theory it would die within five to 10 years. I think [my theory is] being proven wrong," Epps says now.

Today, the council has "significant" input into policy making, Epps says, adding the College "would not make a major change without consulting [the council]."

While the council proclaims itself the only legitimate student government at Harvard, members say to best serve students they must please administrators enough to maintain their influence on University policies. Council members say that this ability to work with administrators is what has made the student government a viable body.

The Undergraduate Council is "not just student government; it's student government with direct input into the University governing structure," explains Chairman Richard S. Eisert '88.

Undergraduates often aren't aware of the "intimate link" between the council and the administration, Eisert says.

The council's most important avenue for influencing the administration is membership on prominent student-faculty committees. Council members hold five seats on each of three committees--the Committee on Undergraduate Education, the Committee on Housing Life and the Committee on College Life.

But some members say because the council is ultimately accountable to the student body it must maintain more independence from the administration.

By keeping independent the purse of the student government, which is funded by a $10 fee on undergraduate term bills, the council is able to retain some of its autonomy. The council uses a large part of its budget to fund various student organizations. Each semester, the government doles out grants amounting to about $21,000, which is two-thirds of its operating budget for the semester. Through its funding role over student publications and groups, the council maintains a powerful influence at the College.

But the council itself may have some organizational problems which make it less effective, some members say.

"This year the council was about 50 percent as it possibly could be, and about 75 percent as effective as it ever will be," says Evan O. Grossman '87, council member and chairman of the Residential Committee.

Flaws in the council's structure hold up the efficiency, and too much time is given to reviewing and suggesting changes in the status quo, some members say.

What the proper role of the council should be has been a matter of fierce debate and is still unresolved. While some see the council simply as a student government, others see it as a tool for improving student social life. Yet others say the council should take a more active role in confronting the administration especially on political issues.

The proper role of the Undergraduate Council should be to improve College life, says past-Chairman Brian C. Offutt '87. The council "really isn't a governmental body" but is instead concerned with student issues, says Offutt. The motivation for running for council should be an interest in making Harvard's life a little better, he says.

This year, the council ventured into new grounds, expanding its role as student government into social organizer. The council, together with Student Productions Association, succeeded in bringing Elvis Costello to Bright Arena for a concert, the first such concert in three years. The council's co-sponsorship of the Memorial Hall party was a move designed to promote campus unity, members say.