Democracy at Harvard

A lack of candidates is no laughing matter

Undergraduate Council (UC) elections begin today. In this new academic year, the Harvard student body will again select their hardworking peers who will represent their interests in the UC’s general meetings and on its committees. Every Harvard student should take a moment today—or in the next few days before noon on Friday—to vote in their reps who have generously volunteered to give their time and energy to make Harvard a better place for all undergraduates.

But despite happy thoughts of wise UC legislators efficiently planning campus-wide events and disbursing monies for the greater good, this UC election season seems to have inspired notably fewer students than years prior.

In two Houses, there are fewer candidates than seats; in several others, there will be no contest without write-in candidates. The cause for this lack of ready candidates is unclear—and no analysis could account for the myriad factors pushing and pulling students from one extracurricular activity to another. That said, there are some observations on the subject of low participation that are uncontroversial.

Publicity was lacking. UC President Matthew J. Glazer ’06 and Vice-President Clay T. Capp ’06 diligently went door-to-door in the Yard, encouraging ambitious freshmen to learn more about the council. Upperclassmen Houses, however, seemed to lack this type of active promotion. There were too few e-mails and precious little visible publicity. A real person, an enthusiastic advocate of the UC, can evoke what dry words on a barren Secure CRT shell cannot. If more upperclassmen had been personally encouraged to run for the UC, or at least urged to do so by a warm and friendly poster, undergrads might not be facing a shortage of candidates.

Relying on incumbents to publicize the races in the Houses also seems somewhat misguided. Common sense dictates that incumbents who want to return to the UC are unlikely to work hard to inspire hordes of charismatic over-achievers to run against them; and incumbents who do not wish to return to the UC presumably will do little to inspire students to run. Perhaps the task of finding and calling for candidates to run in the new elections should be delegated to someone more impartial. Sometimes perfectly competent, dedicated people need an extra push or encouragement before they find the courage to put their own name on a ballot. Incumbents are probably not the right people to administer that extra push.

Harvard students want many things from the UC, both in terms of the actual results that the council wins for undergrads and the attitude with which the UC pursues those results. And students are more likely to get those things if there is a wealth of options to choose from. Students need the openness and efficiency of the UC to inspire old reps to run again and they need attention-grabbing publicity to inspire fresh faces to throw their hats in the ring. The more options there are, the better the chances that the UC will be an effective body.

Towards the end of making the UC more effective, we encourage interested parties to launch concerted write-in campaigns, both in Houses with plenty of candidates and in those with very few; and we encourage every Harvard student to get information about all of the students running to represent their House, and follow up with an intelligent, informed vote.