Anarchy, or something very near to it, has been a way of life at Harvard since 1969, when the school's Undergraduate Council put itself out of business. Lacking a student government, the droves of high-school council presidents who every year flock to Cambridge have had to content themselves with a system of student-faculty advisory committees--a system that grants students no real institutional power, and only the most deferential voice, in the affairs of the Colleges.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Constitutional Convention, which began meeting last fall, sought to change that situation. Over a span of six months, convention delegates hashed out a charter for a new student government, featuring a Student Assembly and provisions for calling frequent campus-wide referenda on key issues. Spurred on by a feeling of student helplessness in the face of the impending Core Curriculum, delegates billed the proposed constitution as the only answer to the problem of Harvard students' institutional impotence.
Not everyone agreed, of course. Many students objected to the constitution's so-called "minority clause," which guaranteed seats in the assembly to several campus minority groups. Some groups, such as the Gay Students' Association, protested their exclusion from the minority clause, while others--such as the Harvard Republican Club--doubted that the organization could be effective without imposing some form of mandatory term-bill charge on students. Convention delegates, however, warned that they would not reconvene the convention if the constitution were defeated, and so students--faced with an all-or-nothing proposition--approved the charter by an almost 3-1 margin.
The future of the new government is still unclear: Dean Epps has warned that the minority clause may be illegal, and other administrators have refused to say whether the assembly will be allowed to play an active role in selecting representatives to the student-faculty committees. Nonetheless, the Student Assembly will take office next semester, and the administration may well have to do some hard thinking about how it will deal with a suddenly louder student voice.