Unknowingly, We All Reap Benefits from the Council
For those of you who might have missed it, on Friday last week, a gentleman from the undergraduate community wrote a letter to the editor calling upon The Crimson, in the absence of "fair and equitable coverage of Undergraduate Council tickets," to cover "none of them," instead. His reasoning for this seemingly drastic action rests upon what he calls "the truth" that the "council...is simply not a factor in most students' lives." Thus, his reflections conclude, "doesn't it seem silly that The Crimson would devote so much valuable space and attention to a group that many undergrads consider--either accurately or otherwise--as a bunch of resume-building windbags?"
The gentleman's letter got me thinking, for, while not currently a council member, I have been involved with the council since the fall of 1996. By the gentleman's estimation, then, this involvement would clearly make me the granddaddy of all "rsum-building windbags," but it also does give me the institutional memory of the council that is necessary to test the substance of his claims. What most caught my eye about the gentleman's letter was his claim that the council "is simply not a factor in most students' lives." Naturally, I take the gentleman to include himself in this group. Indeed, my guess is that he has generalized his own experience at this school for all students. And this got me to wondering, what must this gentleman's experience be like if nothing the council has accomplished has been a "factor" in his life at Harvard?
In the first place, it seems safe to conclude that the gentleman is a man of some means, for saving money in his day-to-day activities is of little concern to him. He must use a cell-phone, for he has no need for the lower phone rates the council brokered. Likewise, he doesn't deign to take holiday shuttles to the airport, for the $35 cab ride doesn't vex his pocketbook. He must never have purchased a used-book at the COOP, for the fact that the council has pressured the COOP to add hundreds of used book titles to it racks is a matter of indifference to him. When buying books online, saving money at "UC Books" just isn't his style. What seems to be his style is funding the Tommy's Pizza endowment, for he has no need of a fourth meal. Nor has he ever had a Fly-By meal (nor its newly added soup option). Why eat free when you can spend 25 bucks a week at the Greenhouse? Of course, he never gets to Loker much, for he obviously doesn't play pool on the tables that the council fought to have installed over the objections of the Loker Committee.
Maybe academics is more the gentleman's style. The fact that the council saw that intercession to now be mandated at minimum of seven days, instead of as little as four days sometimes, doesn't seem to strike a chord with him. He seems to want more class, not a break from it. Nevertheless, I am led to believe that academics must not really concern the gentleman much either. He must have no need of departmental by-passes in the Core, nor the expanded number of offerings within each Core area. Nor does he care that the council lobbied the Committee on Undergraduate Education to provide more faculty advising for first-years, or convinced the Dean of Undergraduate Education to push for more faculty-led freshman seminars.
But that can't be a big deal when you don't really care much about getting to know your professors, and this must be the case for the gentleman, for he probably has never invited a faculty member to lunch under the Student/Faculty meal program, which the council convinced Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 to finance. Nor has he ever taken the time to honor any faculty member by nominating him or her for the Levinson Awards, which the council's Student Affairs Committee hosts each year. Most likely, he has never cared enough about his classes to concern himself with Cabot Library 24-hour access during reading period. Apparently, none of these things has been "a factor" in the gentleman's undergraduate life.
Perhaps the gentleman is at Harvard to have fun? No, that must not be the case, either, as he seems never to have attended Springfest nor bothered to bring a date to the First-Year Formal. Indeed, he must be rather lonely, for he has no need to go to other Houses to visit friends, otherwise, he might find useful the enhanced Shuttle Service that the council convinced the administration to provide for students. Of course, what's the use for getting to other Houses, when the fact that your key card now swipes you in to them doesn't matter, anyway? And no, calling up from the blue-light phones isn't necessary either, for the council got those, too.
What of safety concerns? The gentleman appears not at all to be effected by the work the council has done to get better lighting in former campus trouble spots, like DeWolfe Street. Nor does he care about the its work with the Coalition Against Sexual Violence. Moreover, the gentleman appears cloistered from the larger undergraduate body, as he seems aloof to the fact that the council's Finance Committee doles out money to more than 100 students groups in a timely fashion each and every semester. This, too, seems not to have passed under the gentleman's radar.
Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the life this gentleman has led at Harvard--unaffected, it seems, by any of these benefits to student life--does not reflect "most students' lives." In fact, the life I have portrayed is most likely not at all the one the gentleman leads, either. My guess is that he would protest that he wasn't aware of all these benefits to students that have been effected by the Undergraduate Council. But this, of course, is exactly the point.
Most of the work the council does goes on behind the scenes by people whose concern is not the obnoxious showmanship of windbaggery but the benefit of student life. It is a shame, I admit, that the council does tend to attract more than its fair share of windbags and is best known by those few who are so full of themselves. But trust me when I say this, those people rarely succeed in anything worthy of note on the council except for giving the council a bad name, and everybody who sits on the council knows who they are, and no one, let me repeat that, no one respects them.
In fact, most council members are far more concerned by such "windbags" than the gentleman who penned last Friday's letter. For them, such people are not just a nuisance, they poison the work they are trying to accomplish. Council members understand better than anyone else the fact that the muck these people rake seems inevitably to find a quicker route to page one of The Crimson than any benefit they may bring students, a fact which is borne out (I am guessing) by the surprise with which most of you have read the accomplishments of the council that have been listed. The difference is that, instead of infecting the pages of the Crimson with even more cynicism about the role of the council on this campus, they have undertaken the far harder task of working against this trend on behalf of the students. For these efforts, they should ultimately be thanked--or at least left alone. They should not, however, have to suffer abuse from one who idly enjoys their success.
John Paul Rollert '00-'01 is a social studies concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.