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We Are the Law

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Under its present constitution the Student Council has been equipped with an electoral procedure that has allowed one element in the student body, the Club group, to achieve representation far beyond its numerical strength. This constitution has licensed the Council to dabble in risky Freshman dances and smokers, entailing investment of $3000 of money subscribed by students who had little idea that these funds might be devoted to projects which hardly can be termed "charitable." Further, there is no constitutional limitation on Council spending; thus such questionable expenses as $275 for private dinners and pictures cannot be legally disputed. But this amazing constitution, as cleverly contrived as it may be, suffers from a weakness that destroys its very base and the tightly-molded superstructure that has grown up over it. This constitution has never been ratified.

The present document was foisted on the student body by the Student Council in 1936, was accepted by 17 members of that year's Council and by no one else, and has managed to thrive on college-wide indifference and slothfulness ever since. A student body that endows its governing organization with $5000 per year, that relies on this body for its sole representation before the Administration of the University, has accepted Council after Council at face value without realizing that this group unilaterally has assumed existence, power, and rules. If there are faults in the organization, if there are unhealthy areas within the structure of the Council, it is because the whole system has never been subjected to the test of open inspection and referendum. And until it has, the Council exists in a vacuum, operating as a debate society which has drawn up a pretty set of laws which bind no one beyond the narrow confines of its own membership.

By what authority does the current Council limit the right to referendum to those demon reformers who can collect 500 names on a petition? By what right does it limit the powers of proposing and ratifying amendments to its own membership? Merely because 17 members of a Student Council guessed that these provisos were equitable ten years ago? Even then they were not convinced. Reports claim that these back-room sessions were "smoke-filled and heated." But while the document lay on a table in Phillips Brooks House for thirty days, waiting for someone to raise an objection (which would have caused further discussion, but still no student vote), Harvard was too absorbed in the Tercentenary Celebration to worry about a Student Council. So the present system, elections, or rather lack of elections, complete absence of all student control over Council spending, and the most fantastic amending mechanism this side of Moscow, all became the law of the land by default.

Perhaps by luck or by some unfathomable wisdom of these latter-day founding fathers, this constitution is what is needed to solve student problems that are peculiar to Harvard. But this law-making by conjure has achieved just the reverse. Ten years later this product of an elite father and an indifferent mother finds itself in greater disrepute than its' pre-1936, constitution-less predecessor. Ten years of lopsided representation, of murky and hazy financial activity, of membership practices that smack of Sigma Chi and the Whiffenpoofs, have neutralized the Council's sincere efforts at constructive leadership. Ten years in which nearly 50 percent of all members got their start through appointment to one of the unelected Freshman Committees and, with this initial advantage, proceeded through four years of Harvard politics to eventual appointment or "election" to the Council. Again, this is not evidence of lack of quality in any of the Councils of the past. But it is an indictment of a system that places a man on the political escalator in his Freshman year and allows him to ride to the top, unfettered by popular recall, elections, or any of the widely-accepted features of the democratic process.

Despite a record of sincere endeavor, it is obvious there are grave weaknesses in this system of rule by fiat. A workable solution must be created to take the place of this phantom-like government. It is part of the job of the men selected by the House meetings this week to draw up a constitution that will embody enough popular control to bring the Student Council out of the 19th century. And the first essential of this control lies in ratification of the constitution by the entire student body, lest future Student Councils find themselves in the unenviable position of Harvard's 1946 rump parliament.

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