To the Editors of The Crimson:
I am writing this letter as an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Undergraduate Council. My recent experiences have in many ways demolished my once-high expectations for the UC.
Although I have not been convinced that the UC election procedures or the organization itself are entirely corrupt, I now believe that the problems in the election process are so severe that they must be addressed before any of the organization's other faults.
However, I do not believe that the Undergraduate Council is responsible for all of the failings in the election process; the election was also mishandled by the undergraduates in general. The vast majority of the Harvard student body either did not cast a ballot, or treated the election as little more than a joke. I do not wish to criticize those students that did vote, nor those who had some legitimate reason for not voting. Unfortunately, these students are in the minority.
From helping to tabulate ballots, I learned that in most houses only about one-third of the students actually voted. Furthermore, a considerable number of the ballots were always less than serious, writing in candidates such as "Jimi Hendrix" or "Neil Rudenstine," or noting that a candidate was chosen "only because he's in one of my classes."
This is unfortunate. The Undergraduate Council is an organization with an annual budget of more than $100,000; the UC certainly has the potential to do and actually does many good things. But the Undergraduate Council is trapped in a vicious circle.
Because most Harvard students do not care about the UC enough to even participate in the election, the UC is a far weaker organization than it could be. As a result, not as many people participate in the UC as could and should. Therefore, the UC remains a relatively impotent student government, and so forth.
But I do not condone the manner in which the Undergraduate Council conducts its annual election. In more than one house, a group of students apparently thought that it was funny to run a friend as a write-in candidate as a joke. In some cases these friends were aware of their candidacies, in others they were not, but in every single case it was a blatant abuse of the political process.
Yet, the UC does not actively try to prevent its elections from turning into such a farce. Who knows how many votes were intentionally or unknowingly wasted on these candidates? Perhaps some write-in candidates were actually seriously interested in serving on the UC, but I am quite confident that the vast majority either ran on a lark or were just the result of friends voting for friends.
The Undergraduate Council should change its election procedures such that frivolous candidates are disqualified before ballots are even tabulated, and if possible even before polling is concluded. Candidates who violate election rules, who frequently but not always are the write-in candidates, should be dealt with in a similar manner.
Such a change could have dramatic consequences for legitimate candidates. Election results would no longer be skewed by the irresponsible behavior of certain students, and perhaps UC campaigns would dare to focus more upon issues than slick advertising.
It is wrong that only after the UC election-- if ever--do candidates face any consequences for inappropriate behavior; only after representatives have been elected does the UC consider disqualifying them for having campaigned in the dining halls during the elections or having performed other mischief.
In Mather House, members of the House Council actually assisted write-in candidates to violate UC election rules by displaying their posters at the polling table. Yet, the Undergraduate Council did not disqualify the successful write-in candidate, citing "a lack of definitive evidence."
Did the UC actually contact anyone in Mather House? Is it any surprise that the UC is frequently treated with disdain when it cannot even administer its own election properly and consistently?
In closing, I would like to wish my best to the successful candidates for UC. I do not mind admitting that I am disappointed that I could not be among them; there is much that I would have liked to try to accomplish through the UC. However, I also wish them good luck; I fear they will need it.
In the coming year, I am sure that most Harvard students will continue to express feelings ranging from apathy to outright contempt for the Undergraduate Council; meanwhile, the Undergraduate Council has at least partially justified their doubts by its gross mishandling of its most fundamental mission, accurately representing the student body of the college. Jol A. Silversmith '94