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CALLING A MEETING which accomplished nothing a success sounds strange. But that is precisely the nature of the meeting the new Undergraduate Council held last Sunday. Following two marathon sessions spent electing officers, the council slogged through considerable procedural business, astutely discussed the volatile issue of sexual harassment, and adjourned at the emminently civilized time of 10 p.m. It was an impressive set of modest achievements for a group which must strive to distance itself from the dismal and defunct Student Assembly.
The council demonstrated sensitivity towards what is becoming a widely accepted view. Harvard's funded and centralized student government must effect legitimate, tangible accomplishments this year to secure campus support which is now buoyant but tenuous. To this end, council members--and particularly Council Chairman Michael G. Colantuono '83--moved debate on the agenda's more picayune items at a clipped pace. Voting on necessary procedural matters, including the selection of delegates to various committees and the planning of the council's office, the group set a healthy precedent for itself by deliberating these inconsequential issues in an unhesitating but thorough way.
The air of competence and determination manifested by council members was particularly noteworthy because the agenda itself was so innocuous. That 76 attending members of the 89-member body remained attentive and constructive when talking about IBM Selectries and Xeroxing discounts bodes well for the future. Eventually, more pressing issues will test the internal discipline the group demonstrated Sunday night.
While Colantuono must receive the most credit for lending the council a seriousness which previous student government meetings lacked, the vast majority of council members seem equally concerned with making a break with the past. Members tote copies of the constitution, which never made it across the doorstep of many rooms last spring. A number of House delegations are meeting together, sitting together and voting together. The 23 freshmen on the council have met informally as a group to catch up on Harvard's student government saga, and there is a drive to recognize them constitutionally. In sum, these signs of commitment, coupled with the serious, swift conduct of the first real meeting, have at least temporarily raised the stock of the council. The campus's $58,000 investment may pay off reasonable dividends.
In a few instances Sunday, the delicate balance struck by Colantuono between purposefulness and pettiness threatened to tip to the latter. But displaying a sternness rarely seen from him in the Student Assembly, where he was something of a chatterbox, he maintained control of the meeting. Frequently imploring the council not to dawdle, he desplayed' an unrivaled familiarity with the government's constitution and Robert's Rules.
When four separate motions were proposed slightly altering a preliminary plan to place two freshmen representatives on the agenda-setting administrative committee, the potential for debate was endless. Colantuono averted disaster by consistently refusing to allow meaningless discussion to continue. And, at a more critical juncture, when a few members grumbled about the fact that sexual harassment would be discussed in council and not in committee, Colantuono explained that he viewed the agenda item as an important and topical one, and gained unanimous consent to continue.
COLANTUONO PLAYS DOWN his impact on the council. During his campaign for the chairmanship, he promised to serve the council, and not dictate a personal agenda. While he certainly has not betrayed that promise, he is influencing the council with a model expediency which will hopefully be habit-forming. Colantuono still says he will "follow the direction of the council." But it has become clear that after considerable time spent in circuitous meetings within Harvard's previous student government structure, he plans to keep firm reins on the group during his one-semester term.
At the council's first committee meetings today and tomorrow, Colantuono will urge the academics, communications and finance, residential, social, and student services groups to single out one or two major priorities, and pursue them immediately. "We have to avoid finding substantive issues, giving them superficial discussion in council and passing meaningless resolutions before moving onto something else," Colantuono says. "If we do that, we'll be doing the student body a disservice." He wants "people to get used to dealing with this body in a professional way," a goal which seems to be his primary one in the two months left in the council's first term.
Colantuono and others who struggled for change in the previous student government feel a particular urgency for results. To erase memories of the assembly's notorious inefficiency, Colantuono sees the need for a council which first establishes a tradition of profesionalism and gains self-esteem. Substance-less meetings which are deftly run will not indefinitely better the council. But there is now a sense of positive momentum where for years there has been farcical stagnation.
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