Evaluating the Undergraduate Council


To the Editors of The Crimson:

As chairperson of the Harvard-Radcliffe Undergraduate Council, I feel that I must respond to the article you printed following our last meeting. (See Crimson, Dec. 13.) I write not so much to criticize the article, which was largely fair and accurate, but to prevent your readers from drawing inappropriate conclusions from the facts as you presented them.

As you reported, the meeting did not run smoothly. An unfortunate scheduling problem arose by which the seventeen members of the Communications and Finance Committee were required to be in two places at once. We could begin the Council meeting without them. Some confusion resulted from our late start. Adding to this situation was the fact that the report of the Communications and Finance Committee included a highly controversial issue that arose from this week's referenda.

When the members of the Constitutional Convention drafted the provision which allows undergraduates to force the Council to administer referenda, it was intended to be an accountability measure to prevent the Council from straying too far from student concerns. We did not foresee that political organizations would use this provision to implement referenda on questions of little relevance to the Council itself. No Constitution can be perfect in its first draft, so it should be no great surprise that some things did not work as originally conceived. There is strong feeling in the Council that the Constitution must be amended to clarify this issue.

In addition, the Constitution provides no guidelines on how referenda should be run. Unsurprisingly, some disagreements arose when the Communication and Finance Committee attempted to fulfill its responsibility to administer these referenda without guidelines for doing so.


Questions like these must concern any new organization. Their difficult nature led to an unwieldy discussion in the Council. I must take responsibility for my failure to run the meeting effectively, but I do not believe that this need for constitutional clarification will "hobble" the Council. I am confident that this issue will be resolved through an amendment to our Constitution and through the adoption of clear guidelines in our bylaws.

My most important concern is that students not make the mistake of concluding that because the Council had one disorganized meeting that the whole concept of student government has been discredited. I am also concerned that the Council be given a fair chance to organize itself. The fact that thus far the Council has focussed on procedural issues in its meetings does not mean that student government is not serving students' needs. Obviously the new Council must devote energy to the basic tasks of organization. But students must also be aware of what the Council is doing. The Residential Committee is tackling the issues of summer storage and the role of Dudley House as well as the situation of transfer students. The Social Committee is busy preparing for several large projects next term. The Communications and Finance Committee has a delegate who attends every Cambridge City Council meeting, and the Committee has also created a grants process from scratch. Indeed, the Council has already granted $3125 to such groups as The Harvard Educational Alliance for Third World Health, the Harvard-Radcliffe Dance Company. The Weather (a freshman class newspaper), and the UHS Peer Contraceptive Counseling Program. The Academics Committee has created a new award to recognize excellence in teaching and is now discussing a number of educational issues including the pass/fail option. Finally, the Student Services is studying a variety of issues with a special focus on library services. In short, the Council as an institution is working on a variety of issues of direct concern to students. It is too soon to justify comparisons of the Undergraduate Council with its predecessors.

I welcome The Crimson's contributions to our efforts and an hopeful that future articles and editorials will provide further ideas for Council action. We welcome, of course, input from all students. Michael G. Colantuono '83   Chairperson, Undergraduate Council