A REPUTATION for powerlessness--that is the greatest obstacle facing Harvard student government. The new Undergraduate Council will overcome the failure of previous assemblies only if it takes swift and visible action in areas of concern to students and administrators. The following are suggestions for such action, designed to galvanize support among undergraduates and inspire respect from University officials.
* The Money Several ranking representatives have already indicated opposition to using the council's $35,000 activities budget to support anything even vaguely "political." Since the entire 89-person assembly will approve all grants, this potentially paralyzing fear of partisanship should be set aside. Money should go to organizations which efficiently accomplish goals council members as a group endorse. Labels such as "liberal" and "conservative" should not get in the way.
* Financial Aid. This issue affects a large proportion of undergraduates, and the council should immediately establish a liaison with the Financial Aid office so that students can explain their needs and worries on a regular basis. The council can also move information in the other direction, educating all undergraduates on the nuances of federal programs and Harvard's own continuing efforts to separate admissions decisions from financial matters.
* Sexual Harassment. The Faculty has launched a broad discussion of this unfortunate aspect of campus life. The council should use the opportunity to pressure Harvard to explain more clearly how students can respond to perceived harassment and what happens after a complaint is filed. The Radcliffe Union of Students, already experienced in debating the issue with administrators, deserves moral and financial support to continue its campaign for more cooperation from University Hall.
* Shelier: Massive renovations of the Houses have already produced extensive problems, from incessant false fire alarms to costly destruction of personal belongings stored under University auspices. Again, the council should demand that one or more of its representatives be involved in future decisions on how further renovations will be executed and how these plans will be publicized. It should also seek input on general discussions of housing accommodations, particularly those focusing on demographic and equity issues.
* Tenure and Investments: Student leaders should think broadly about establishing new relationships with respected groups largely ignored by previous assemblies. The issue of faculty hiring and University investment policy could launch these relationships.
By seeking open-discussion with often-frustrated junior professors, students may find support for proposals such as systematic undergraduate advice on tenure decisions. While students' abilities to assess professors' scholarly credentials are often slim, undergraduates can often give valuable assessments of a faculty member's lecturing talents or willingness to devote extra time and energy to working with students.
Similarly, open-minded alumni organizations would be valuable allies in future attempts to convince Harvard to sell its investments in companies doing business with the government of South Africa. If the Corporation best understands the language of dollars and cents, progressive check-signers may be the best people to explain the immorality of implicitly endorsing a racist society.
The desire underpinning all of these recommendations is that the council spends its first year serving students not dissecting Robert's Rules of Order. On one subject, however, the representatives should immediately return to their constitution for alterations. Article IV, Section 2b allows the council and its committees, "in extraordinary circumstances, by a two-thirds vote" to close any session to the public. We carelessly overlooked the clause in our initial endorsement of the document last spring but hope that that the government will remove what could be used as a tool to separate representatives from their constituents and the press. All meetings should be completely open.