THE Undergraduate Council seems to have a knack for fence straddling. In its half-dozen years of existence, it has failed to recognize that representing constituents means something other than trying to avoid antagonizing anyone.
The most flagrant example of this tactic is the Council's recent aborted attempt to take a stand in Lisa Schkolnick's suit against the Fly Club. The Council agreed to give Schkolnick $250, but at the same time it refused to endorse her suit. More recently, it rejected a weaker resolution which urged the clubs to admit women. As a result of its studied ambivalence, the Council can count on being on the winning side of the final club dispute--no matter which side wins.
And it is just this desire to be on the right side--or at least not on the wrong side--all the time that makes the Council the laughing stock that it is. An effective student government, however, can't play it so safe, so often.
Those of us who have strong feelings on the final club issue, or any other issue where the Council tries to take a "moderate," nonconfrontational stand, are not taken seriously; in purporting to represent the students on such matters, the Council, as the official student representative, winds up diluting strong student sentiment. If it wants to be anything other than the butt of chocolate milk jokes, it needs to get some people upset--at least occasionally.
I will therefore propose two resolutions, which I hope the Council will consider next fall. Passing either one would certainly alienate many students, but it would also enable the Council to tap student support and/or outrage, for a change. The first resolution reads something like this:
RESOLVED, That the Undergraduate Council hereby endorses Schkolnick's suit, condemns the final clubs for sexism and elitism, and urges every undergraduate to avoid all contact with these monsterous institutions.
Or an alternative:
RESOLVED, That the Undergraduate Council hereby rejects Schkolnick's complaint as silly and frivilous and regards the final clubs as a positive good on Harvard's campus. It further asks that the University reinstate all ties with the clubs in order to help make final club life more palatable for members.
Of the two resolutions, the first is certainly preferable, and the second is indeed an outrage. But either one would help give the Council what it sorely needs--a shred of character. Few things are more loathsome than a body so cautious as to be unwilling to take a stand in the face of pressure.
WERE the Council to pass something resembling the first of these proposals, students would have a central body around which to rally. Even if the second one were to pass, interest in the Council might just pique. The resolution's proponents would likely be voted out of office at the next election, even recalled, and the true, undiluted feelings of the represented would then be known.
Consensus is no way to govern when it comes to questions on which people fundamentally disagree. Final clubs present just such an issue. Turnout at Council elections has been pathetically low recently; 40 percent of the student body in the last election. Next year, I suspect, it will reach its lowest point ever. When the organization insists upon not endorsing a suit but funding it nonetheless or when it demands an open meeting with the Corporation but accepts a closed meeting in the end, we are left with very little to vote upon come the next election.
The "Vote for Me Because I'm Cool" posters and position papers that flourish around election time don't help either and produce the same wishy-washy Council year after year. Maybe next year we can see some posters that advocate censuring final clubs and support a campaign to persuade those punched not to join.
If the Council continues its present course, it inevitably will incur the fate of all past Harvard student governments--self-destruction. Let me therefore offer a final resolution which someone might want to place on the Council's agenda if it is unwilling to accept one of the two I proposed earlier:
RESOLVED, That the Undergraduate Council has proven itself unworthy of the title "Representatives of the Harvard-Radcliffe Student Body," has refused nearly every opportunity it has had to take forceful action, and has betrayed its constituents. It recognizes its uselessness and hereby dissolves itself.
This way, the Council could go out with a bang, rather than its accustomed whimper.