Direct Chair Election Debated

Some Council Reps. Propose Voting by Student Body

If a group of Undergraduate Council members have their way, the entire campus will elect all future student government chairs.

The council will hold an open discussion Sunday on the possibility of changing its rules, a move that could fundamentally alter the way Harvard student government operates.

Since the council's inception six years ago, it has elected its chairperson from the ranks at the first meeting of each semester, as required by its constitution. But under proposals now floating around the council, the student government's chief officer would be elected popularly by all undergraduates.

At the core of the debate is a conception of how strong an influence the chair should excercise in council business.

Supporters, and even some detractors, of the plan said popularly elected officers would become something like student body presidents and would exercise wider agenda-setting power. They would have a clear mandate--something chairs now lack--to act on certain issues, these council members said.


Backers of the campus-wide election idea said the plan would increase student input into council business and improve the body's credibility.

"Honestly, the question before the council is, `Do we have faith that Harvard students will make, given the opportunity, a wise decision about the council's leadership and about the council's future?'," said Frank E. Lockwood '89, chairperson of the services committee. "I believe the answer is yes."

In his failed bid for council chair last month, Lockwood called on the council to give the students the vote for its highest official.

The debate over how the council chair should be elected comes at a time when this semester's chair, Kenneth E. Lee '89, has interpreted his duties on a broader basis than past chairs.He has taken the unprecedented action of votingfrom the chair and has publicly offered his viewson controversial issues.

Some council members said a popularly electedchair, in power by the grace of the constituentsand not the council, would be an activist one,building on Lee's model to the extent of beingconfrontational with the council itself.

But other council representatives said theyfear that a popular election would turn into a"popularity contest" and that a candidate electedby the students might not be able to workeffectively with the council.

Without any nomination requirements, achairperson elected by all students "wouldprobably not have the kind of abilities that areneeded in the day-to-day running of the council,"said David R. Golob II '89.

Mitchell A. Orenstein '89, who has drafted aplan for a campus-wide election, said the racewould not degenerate into a popularity contestbecause his proposal calls for requiring thatcandidates have one year of experience on thecouncil.

The idea of a student body president is a farcry from the original conception of the council'shighest office, said former Chairperson Brian R.Melendez '86.

The council's founders conceived of the chairin the early 1980s strictly as a meetingmoderator, Melendez said.

Making the race a general election wouldrequire the approval of either two-thirds of thestudent body or three-quarters of the council.

Several council members said they will probablypush for a binding student referendum later thissemester or call for a council vote on the matter