Vote or Die, Part Two
How Moore and Nichols can revitalize our uninspiring Undergraduate Council
Far too often, I have watched Harvard students dismiss the council as a high school student council on steroids, with responsibilities ranging from movie nights to writing bad checks for student groups. Low voter turnout shows that people feel like they do not have a stake in the council—despite the fact that this is the most opportune time for change in the past three decades.
Right now, the University’s faculty is approaching its vote on the proposed reforms of the Harvard College Curricular Review. In this review, a number of fantastic ideas have been advanced, including integrating public service into the curriculum and the elimination of the Core. A number of terrible ideas—like the move to a Yale housing system, where first-years are randomly assigned to Yard houses and funneled into predetermined upperclass houses—are also being considered by the administration. The council has the pre-existing relationships with administrators and the access to the review process to organize student opinion into real power that they can leverage on behalf of current and future students, and academia as a whole.
Moreover, with Harvard’s purchase of Allston, student space issues should be the center of a campus-wide debate. Things like a women’s center, centralized mental health resources, dance and art studios and student group offices should be high on the administration’s construction agenda—but student demands have not been organized to make this so. The council has representatives on the Allston planning committee, including President Matthew W. Mahan ’05, but there has not been enough dialogue with students outside of the council circle to see what people really want.
The questions that are at hand, then, as we prepare for another council presidential campaign season, are why are students disinterested, and can we organize the student body’s demands into a coherent agenda that the University must acknowledge? I think that the reason the student body is largely disinterested is not because they are self-absorbed, as many council veterans would have you believe, but because they see the council as primarily a résumé-building insiders’ operation.
Every year, people treat the council presidency as if it had been decided long before anyone declared candidacy. Council leaders groom future presidents and create an aura of invincibility that frightens challengers. The “next guy” gets anointed by the council status quo and a bunch of student group leaders fall all over themselves to kiss butt in the hopes of currying enough favor to make their grant processes run smoothly in the future. We are at Harvard, so tailgate behavior notwithstanding, I assume that we are pretty intelligent people. We should not have council presidents forced down our throats by some imaginary predetermined consensus. Candidates must be elected on the basis of how their ideas and personality could improve the life of Harvard students, period. That is why I believe that Moore-Nichols is the best choice for the council.
Their platform is one of the most expansive I have seen in my four years here, as it pushes the council to include the interests of a wider range of students—including low-income students (free laundry privileges and minimum printing budgets), female students (the establishment of a women’s center) and student group leaders (centralized information about reserving space on and off campus). Moreover, it challenges the university to push for staff diversity, not only in ethnicity and gender, but also in ideology, to truly challenge the way students think about the world.
I am most impressed, however, by Moore and Nichols as individuals. Moore is a person that any student, regardless of title, can approach with an idea or concern and have it addressed. He is a listener, but also a dreamer, who has big ideas and the determination to make them reality. Nichols balances Moore’s widespread appeal and fresh perspective with the experience of a three-year council veteran. I am confident from my experiences with him as Finance Committee vice-chair while I was a student group president that he has the understanding of administrative navigation to shepherd Moore’s ideas through the bureaucracy of Harvard.
For the first time in a long time, the council can finally have leadership that the administration has to view with extreme seriousness because it speaks for the whole student body and is not just a group of pipeline guys that have been running for Harvard student body president since freshman week. It is time we as a student body seize this opportunity and try something new, for us and for the future. I hope that when voting begins on Monday, Dec. 6, 2004, you cast your vote for the Moore-Nichols ticket, because we do, indeed, deserve m(o)ore.
Brandon M. Terry ’05 is a government and African and African American studies concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.