The ancient and honorable institution of the house committee needs a house cleaning. If house committees are to mean anything at all, it is imperative that they become dynamically representative bodies. Some sort of written rules of procedure or, better, house constitutions, especially as regard elections, should be framed. During the war, no system for house committees was possible. Now, however, it is high time that the houses get going and make a concerted effort to put the committees on their feet.
Before the war, most houses ran their elections on the basis of class. That is, the house committees were composed of a fixed number of representatives from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. In some houses, such as Adams, the prospective juniors and seniors already on the committee were required to stand for re-election each spring. In other houses, such as Lowell, members were elected permanently. In the matter of these re-elections, there was always the question of continuity of membership. Usually, the elections were sufficiently staggered, however, so that there were enough old members remaining on the committee to provide the needed carry over.
This class system of elections is obviously impracticable while the draft is still on and while, with the return of veterans, such a mixture of classes exists in the house. The system may be feasible later. In the meantime, much can and should be done in the direction of making the committees democratic and thoroughly representative. In some houses, there is at present no fixed procedure more than a few vague precedents for committee elections. As a result, representation has often become sporadic and capricious. The desirability and need for some sort of a plan is evident. Adams House, for example, has had since 1941 a written constitution in which the method of elections is set down pretty clearly. It states both the time and procedure of elections and in some detail the duties of the committee. Noteworthy is the fact that even under the class system on which it was based, this constitution stipulates that the whole committee must stand re-election.
Though the Adams House system has had to be tailored somewhat to wartime conditions, the democratic foundation for a strong house committee has been revived. Where there is no rule against uncontested incumbency, there is no opportunity for a general turnover of membership or for the house members to express an up-to-date opinion of committee members. A house committee tends to lose contact with the house. Not only are office holding opportunities restricted thus, but one or another "elique" in a house can easily manage to make the committee an "oligarchy of power." Frequent elections lessen these possibilities.
The widespread use of the petition of names for purposes of nomination also has its shortcomings. More often this results in the nomination of friends and roommates of committee members than of a scattered and representative group. The institution of the direct primary as the means of nomination would end this evil. In order that certain other desirable persons be nominated, however, the house committee itself should be permitted to nominate a fixed percentage of the names appearing on the ballot.
Improvement of election procedure is not the only reform necessary in the house committee situation. Other things such as open meetings with the members of the house and the publication of house committee activities would help develop interest in the committees. But the fundamental thing is the right of free and frequent voting. Given this, house committees can become more than the kitchen cabinets of some student strong men.