Every year, a new group of candidates vie for the positions of Undergraduate Council President and Vice President, and, every year, we endorse a ticket we think is best suited to accomplishing the myriad goals that constitutes its platform. This year, however, we withhold our endorsement.
It has become apparent in recent years that best-laid plans, great intentions, and evident hard work in our governing body cannot achieve substantial change in a way that benefits the undergraduates in a meaningful way. We have seen, time and time again, that promises made to the students are invariably not accomplished as a result of the institutionalized impotence of the student voice. This year, instead of endorsing a ticket, we thus support a drastic reorganization of the UC and a scaling back of the mission and responsibilities of the group.
As it currently stands, the two serious tickets—Danny P. Bicknell ’13 and Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13 against Crystal D. Trejo ’13 and David H. A. LeBoeuf ’13—offer nearly identical platforms to prospective voters. In what is becoming a stagnant annual refrain, each pair promises to tackle head-on the issues of social space and student-faculty interaction. Unfortunately, it is our firm belief that such promises cannot be fulfilled given the powerlessness of the UC. Most damaging of all, the UC as it currently stands gives students the appearance of having a say with the administration without any actual influence on decision-making processes.
For an example of the extreme weakness of this group, one need not look further than a few weeks ago. That current president Senan Ebrahim ’12, who has been a well respected leader on campus throughout his tenure, had to resort to asking students to spam the inboxes of administrators to get even a noncommittal response about future “Forum for Social Change” meetings is indicative of the extreme ease with which the administration has come to brush off the demands of the anemic organization.
What we envision is a UC that has been reduced to handling only what currently constitutes its Finance Committee’s responsibilities—determining grant money allocation for student organizations. It performs its function as a money allocator sufficiently well, and no plausible alternative exists to this system. That being said, virtually every other responsibility of the UC’s, which receive the majority of the work of the body, is neither effective nor irreplaceable.
Experience has taught us not to expect results from the other committees of the UC, and, in fact, each of them would be easily replaced by other organizations that would likely be able to do a more effective job.
While the UC may talk a good game about changing the nature of social space at Harvard, its leaders have made the same promises again and again over the past few years and spurred virtually no change whatsoever. In reality, students acting outside the existing bureaucratic channels are often capable of realizing their goals faster and in a much more effective way. To use a recent example on the social space front, a handful of students took power into their own hands and actually succeeded in creating Cabot Café, a much needed and readily welcomed addition to the College’s social landscape.
Furthermore, although we admire the UC’s attempts to engage the administration in a dialogue with students, such attempts seem fated to be ineffective. Students would be better served if the administrators did not have ill-attended forums like these to hide behind when avoiding engaging students in more effective and less pre-arranged formats that could produce results of real interest. Students would be better served by making their views known through extended office hours with administrators, especially Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds who is, at least nominally, the voice for the undergraduates within the administration. Furthermore, we encourage large student groups to pressure University Hall to meet with them to discuss their most important concerns.
If there is any lesson to be learned from the activist movements that have cropped up over the past year, it is that when students see a problem, they are more than capable of stepping up and fixing it outside of the UC system.
With UC elections on the horizon, it doesn’t seem to matter much who you vote for. Instead of choosing between two sets of identical candidates, take a stand against the system and sit this election out. If you must vote, consider lending your support to Ryan P. Halprin ’12 and Aneliese K. Palmer ’12, who will graduate during their presidential tenure. For the reforms we’d like to see, that’s at least a step in the right direction.