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WHEN YOU vote for the Undergraduate Council this week--if you even bother--don't forget to ask the tough question. Not "Whom from your house or yard area do you want to represent you?" but "What is your favorite council joke?"
.The council doesn't really have an attendance problem. It just has stealth representatives. (Now UC 'em, now you don't.)
.Council member Mark A. Gragg's description of a typical debate: "Never have so many spoken so stupidly."
.The old standby, "You can't have a fuck-up without a UC."
Unfortunately, the band of resume-padding, power-hungry incompetents who dominate the council are so busy protecting their jobs, they never even imagine a Harvard without a council. Or a Harvard without this council.
It is time we did.
LAST fall brought us a council bent on damage control. "No more screw-ups" was the rule of the day--no more flopping concerts or ROTC resolution shenanigans. Instead, members decided to think small and focus on "student service."
But instead of revelling in the chain of minor successes that the representatives envisioned, the council couldn't keep half its members at meetings long enough to vote, stood impotent as the adminstration turned a blind eye to legitimate safety and academic concerns, and made the word "Subramania!" synonymous with constitutional chicanery.
And this fall, with the legacy of council incompetence and apathy at the top of their minds, one-sixth of Harvard undergraduates just said no to the council. More than 1000 students took the time to find that little line on their term bills which gives $16.67 to the council, and cancel their "donation." When you consider that very few first-year students even knew that they were funding the council, this figure is remarkable.
Of course, denying the council funding only hurts organizations students support--from campus publications such as Diaspora to service groups such as CityStep. And that means that those 1000 students actively chose to undermine valued, legitimate organizations rather than tacitly consent to the council's behavior.
It was a radical stand--a stand that can't be addressed in campaigns this week between candidates endorsed by Calvin, Hobbes and Opus. The problem with the council isn't just the representatives, although many are bad enough. The problem with the council is the council structure itself.
HOW to reform the council? The following four steps would go a long way toward dissipating the inherent humor in the phrase "Undergraduate Council."
1. End house representation. With the administration pushing hard for randomization, parochial house interests are vanishing, leaving a power vacuum. Members elected on ridiculous platforms gain legitimacy they can use for their own agendas.
One solution is to base all council posts on campus-wide ballots. Let candidates decide whether they will campaign on a house basis, an arena basis (the Quad, the Yard, etc.), or on issues.
2. Have direct elections for the individual committees. As an example, students could run directly for the Academics Committee, and not have to go through the full council for approval. Candidates would run on academic issues only, increasing expertise and accountability.
3. Gut the council. Stop holding full weekly sessions altogether. No one goes anyway. In their place, put a clearinghouse style body composed of committee liaisons and two elected student adminstrators.
Its only function should be to make sure that the right hand knows what the left is doing. Any "votes" would be recommendations to the committees themselves.
4. Follow the money. The council almost always accepts the Finance Committee's recommendations for grants, so devolve power to that committee formally. The fact that the council controls over $100,000 is lost on students at general election time.
A directly accountable finance committee would change that (and, most likely, prevent Suzanne Vega-like disasters). And when grants time rolled around, the financiers would have to go to the masses via house meetings or referenda. (The houses are still good for something.)
Last spring, when the council was wallowing in its own ineptitude, The Crimson called for a stronger council historian in an effort to encourage institutional memory.
The call should have been for a great burst of institutional amnesia. The council, in its stultifying, centralized form, should be left behind. And in its place, students should install a flexible, accountable, reliable system.
Then we can get back to joking about the Quad.
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