Every Sunday evening in Sever Hall, a few dozen students gather together and debate solutions to Harvard's problems--from shuttle buses to student groups to Springfest.
But in the course of trying to solve everyone else's problems, again and again it becomes apparent that Harvard's Undergraduate Council can't solve its own.
First, there is the effectiveness problem. The Dean of Students says he's not convinced the council is "the real student government." Even the council's President says the two most powerful men in College life often ignore the council's opinions when making policy.
Second, there is the legitimacy problem. Only 28 percent of the campus turned out to elect representatives last fall, and so some members were swept into office by 15 to 20 votes--total. By now, about half of those elected have resigned or been kicked off for missing meetings, according to the former election commission chair.
Finally, there is the money problem. The council is already financially limited compared to other Ivy League student governments, but the way it disperses limited funds doesn't help the situation. In a year when most student groups received about $250 from council coffers, the council has also spent $340 of student money on its own "random acts of kindness," and $1,000 to send four of its delegates to conference many of its members say is useless.
The council does not always strike out, of course. Extended shuttle service, 24-hour access to Cabot Library during reading period and "grab-and-go" lunches in Loker Commons are proof of that.
Still, these successes are often the result of a few hard-working individuals, pushing their own personal agendas. Even at its best, the Council seems more like an extracurricular think tank than the voice of 6,600 tuition-paying undergraduates.
Without that voice, the council's campus influence is about as reliable as Sister Hazel.
The Student Voice?
Last night's council meeting was an especially telling example of the state of
President Beth A. Stewart '00, who a dayearlier had predicted universal key card access inthree Houses, rose to announce that she was stillunsure what changes would take place.
Council members then urged the administrationto pay for the replacement of a rug taken from theStraus Hall common room, removing from the bill anoffer to pay for the rug with council funds.
"This bill is a eunuch," said council memberJustin D. Lerer '99, who is a Crimson editor. "Allthe more reason for me not to be on the [council]next year."
In University Hall, where council members needto be respected in order to be effective, suchproceedings seem like no surprise.
"I always have the sense that some of our bestpeople aren't in student government," says Dean ofStudents Archie C. Epps III. "Maybe [the Councilis not] the real student government at Harvard."