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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

The Great Compromise


The result of long and honest intellectual labor on the part of one of the most publicized committees in recent Council history, the constitution presented to the Student Council on Monday evening by the Constitutional committee is, in the best democratic tradition, a compromise. It is a compromise between the much-abused and never ratified constitution under which the Council worked for a decade, and the document plumping for "more democracy" offered by the summer "revision" committee, which did its work in the double heat of the August sun and an inflamed segment of the student body. In totality, the proposed constitution leans far and healthy towards the latter pole.

The Constitutional Committee proposed, first of all, that membership on the new Council be elected from the Houses, with regard for no Class save the Sophomores, who would be underrepresented in the Houses. This proposition evidently stuck in the full Council's craw, and this section, together with some others, has been sent back to the Committee with the recommendation that further consideration be given to Class representation. The Council, although seemingly nullifying some ten-weeks work of its committee, has actually taken a long range point of view in realizing that Class currents, totally disrupted by the war, will again flow strongly in the mind of the undergraduate when the classes shake out into their normal order.

The decision which might well be called the Great Compromise of the new Constitution lies in the section dealing with the appointive-elective issue. The Committee, in spite of what must have been great popular pressure, resisted the completely elective dogma and instead significantly revised downward the proportion of appointed men on their new Council. Only three of nineteen members will henceforth be appointed.

These are major changes. They are not the kind of changes that will set the-man-in-the-House shouting from the rooftops, for there has been no basic redefinition of Council power. Rather the changes have served the fuller interests of the Council--making it broader, more fully representative, more sensitive to the flickering of student opinion--without prohibiting, out of philosophical spite, the valuable contributions of appointed members.

The proposed method of nomination, however, appears doomed to failure. Trying to rid itself of the objectionable nominating committee method of putting men on a ballot, the new constitution would require 25 percent of the total House membership to be present at an open nomination, the alternative being another, but non-Council, nominating committee. In the light of the poor attendance at the Constitutional Forums, 25 percent, or about 80 men per House, seems an absurdly high attendance figure to ask.

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