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I DIDN'T PLAN to run for the Undergraduate Council last fall.
I didn't want to get involved with what is perceived to be one of the more inept organizations on campus. But I did want to serve on a student-faculty committee, and the council selects students from its own membership to respresnt undergraduate interests before the administration.
I tried to believe that the council gets bad press from most undergraduate publications simply because there aren't enough seats for every resume-stuffing Gov jock.
Little did I know how wrong I was.
AFTER DECLARING my candidacy, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was one of six people running for the five Adams House seats. Most candidates faced little competition. As in the past, the council extended the filing deadline last year because of a dearth of candidates in some houses.
The result was that too many people on the council were more interested in their titles than they were in fulfilling their responsibilities as representatives. These members of the council contributed little to meetings, if anything at all.
The remaining members did want to make student government work. They spoke frequently during council meetings and undertook specific projectsthat they thought would benefit the students.
These representatives actually spoke too much. They examined every point in every resolution at great length. They spent a lot of time debating unimportant details before the whole body.
Although the representatives were performing a valuable function by clarifying the resolutions, the subcommittees should have eliminated the need for explanation before they went to the main body. Had they done so, the length of council meetings could have been cut in half.
It is not surprising that most council members found the meetings boring. They got tired of hearing the same representatives ask the same questions of different proposals, meeting after meeting. To save themselves from the tedium, at least two representatives studied foreign language flash-cards, while another worked his way through Wittgenstein. Others found equally productive ways to pass the time.
When the council tried to negotiate with the administration about a serious issue, such as reforming the academic calendar, both the administration and the council felt compelled to survey undergraduates to know what they thought about the proposal. If the council believed that it was a truly representative body, then it would not have needed to survey its constituents. They could have held an open forum instead.
If the administration had believed that the council represented student interests, they might have dealt more seriously with the student government's proposals. For instance, the council could have demanded, and received, a place in the Presidential search.
Nonetheless, the council can claim limited successes: the UC-PBH book sale, calendar reform, and the Yale Game cookout.
The people responsible for these projects are those who serve on student-faculty committees. But undergraduate representatives have no real power to make changes in the University system. They can only try to persuade the administration, and it is almost impossible to convince bureaucrats to change what they have always done. Remember the controversy surrounding the addition of the hamburger option to the dining halls?
MY EXPERIENCE being an UC representative has shown me that the council has a choice: it can continue in its bumbling tradition--its actions dissuading talented students from serving on it--or it can restructure itself in order to maximize what little power it has.
First, the council should cut its membership by three-fifths. There should be one representative elected from each house and Yard district, and an equal number of representatives elected at large.
This way, each house would have at least some representation. The houses that have a greater number of qualified individuals than seats, such as Quincy House last year, would be able to contribute all of those talents to the at-large contingent.
Second, representatives should face election each semester. The increased competition and constant evaluation would force the representatives to prove to the student body that they successfully pursued undergraduate interests, or they would lose. This would provide them incentive to tackle as many projects as possible.
Third, the student body should directly vote for the chair, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer. An elected leader of the student government would have more clout in negotiating with the administration than someone who was selected by his or her fellow council members.
Fourth, the council should trumpet its successes more. They should talk about how much money they raised for Philips Brooks House and how important calendar reform was to students. They should talk about the extracurriculars that would have had to find money elsewhere had they not received funding from the council. And they should try to make undergraduates understand that the council can only do so much since it has a very limited scope of authority compared to a municipal, state or federal government.
Fifth, the council should abolish the social subcommittee. No one cares about milk and cookie breaks. Few people attend social committee events held in Memorial Hall.
Instead, the council should give money to the house committees to throw collegewide events. The dance in Adams House in February was a success because house committee members worked to make it so.
The council should also retain rights over college facilities during important events, such as Alumni Hall during Head of the Charles, and instead of sponsoring a poorly attended battle of the bands, give the slot to a deserving and motivated undergraduate organization, in whose interest it would be to have students attend and raise money.
If the council was willing to make these changes, it might finally get the appropriate, limited amount of respect that it deserves.
Mark N. Templeton '93 was a representative to the Undergraduate Council last year.
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