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Less Than Zero



LAST spring's Undergraduate Council was a model of incompetence. It botched resolutions on bringing the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) back to campus, as open meetings turned riotous. It botched an ill-conceived Suzanne Vega concert, losing more than $20,000 and potentially undermining their financial security.

But last semester council members apparently were't taking any chances and, for once, they got their way. The council didn't do anything wrong. In fact, it almost didn't do anything at all.

One main theme seemed to pervade the earlier parts of the semester: rebuilding student confidence in the council by providing much-needed student services without bothering with those nasty complicated political issues. To begin with, this answer was a narrow-minded attempt to solve an incorrectly defined problem. Last year's mishaps did not occur because the council was political, but because it was poorly managed and ill-informed.

Instead of merely shunning politics, the council could make any number of institutional changes to give itself a more legitimate and effective voice on campus. For one, the council should appoint an effective council historian to provide institutional memory and to prevent the council from repeating its mistakes. Subramanian appointed an historian earlier this semester, but she seems to have abandoned her poorly-defined duties.

In addition, the council must enforce its attendance policies. Many of this year's meetings barely had a quorum of members, despite an alleged attendance crackdown. Representatives who don't go to meetings do not represent anyone.

But even without these changes, if this year's council was supposed to have been service oriented, it was not too much to expect it to actually provide some services. So what has the council done?

INITS newly instituted and seldom seen newsletter, council members boast as among their major accomplishments: providing bus transportation to the Yale game (an annual tradition), sponsoring a forum on minority and women faculty hiring (mostly the work of non-council member Lucy H. Koh '90) and sponsoring a concert by an unknown group called the Bermuda Strollers (actually a promotional stunt for a spring break tour company). These are student services?

In his position paper, Chair Guhan Subramanian '91-'92 promised an intra-university student mail system and an inquiry into the quality of our drinking water. The council has yet to address either issue.

And in the revisionist department, the newsletter claims that this year's council has effectively dealt with the ROTC issue and gained valuable learning experience in planning big-name concerts. In fact, the council's resolutions on the future of ROTC were moot because this year's council cannot bind future councils to its decisions. And their concert "learning experience" consists of a string of rejections from concert performers who probably couldn't fill a Harvard arena anyway.

DESPITE its rhetoric, the council has not moved away from political issues. To its credit, it passed a resolution supporting striking Pittson mine workers, and has offered help in organizing a national student fast to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre.

But this week, the council leadership's political fervor on international issues went out of control. When a Harvard alumnus told Subramanian about plans to organize demonstrations to prevent the resignation of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the council chair convened an emergency meeting of several council leaders. Three of these leaders, acting on their own behalf, attended a rally in Harvard Square to save Gorbachev.

The rally's total attendance was five.

A spokesperson at the Soviet embassy, obviously unfamiliar with the Undergraduate Council's history, was pleased that the council leadership had joined efforts to save the reformist President.

Given the council's track record, however, Gorbachev has good reason to worry.

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