As a first year to both the College and the Undergraduate Council, I feel compelled to respond to the charges in Rodolfo Fernandez's feature ("How Does the Council Measure Up" November 2) condemning the council. In the course of establishing an argument for structural reform in the council, Fernandez took plenty of potshots but offered no practical plan to replace the effective standing structure. Indeed, I find it difficult to believe that anyone could take this diatribe seriously after comparing it to plain common sense.
In the course of contrasting the council to student governments at other schools, the author seemed to find some correlation between the income of elected officials and resultant productivity of the council. He reminded us that the four council presidents at Stanford each receive $4100 a year. The independent commissioner who supervises Stanford's elections is paid $2000. And Fernandez sniffs, Stanford's budget is about $300,000 per annum, while Harvard's council has a "relatively meager" $120,000. Is the author suggesting we pay the members of the council for their time as a means of improving ethics and efficacy? In addition, particularly in this economic climate where cuts are being made University-wide, we should be thankful that we have as much as we do to responsibly spend in improving undergraduate life. Those who scoff at the council's job of dispersing funds are mocking one of the most difficult tasks an undergraduate can attempt. Many council members work into the wee hours of the night with no compensation save a commitment to their constituents and the satisfaction of a job well done. Think of how many clubs and organizations on campus would be extant if not for the council's grants.
After noting that members of the University of Miami campaign heavily (and therefore get to know the issues and the people they represent) Fernandez returns to Stanford, citing the university's student body motion last year "to clear accused representatives only through clear and convincing evidence" and not just evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt." In his view, being innocent before proven guilty seems to be a trivial notion in describing the judicial process that we might institute for accused council members. And as for earnest campaigning, ask anyone who made a bid for the council this year, and they'll tell you how much hard, honest work they put into securing a seat.
Fernandez further argues that at Stanford the students are in touch with the issues: their college newspaper does in depth stories, the radio station stages debates, etc. I believe I speak for the council when I say we would be thrilled with such coverage. Such offers, however, are few and far between. In the meantime, the recent introduction of a council newsletter, the availability of minutes, and the open nature of the general meetings account for how many students learn about the council. We do all we can to encourage dissemination of information. We always encourage students to read the minutes of our meetings (they're actually quite funny) and to stay in touch with their representatives.
I'm the first to say the council needs improvement--it's not perfect. And I admit, it has had recent troubles. But the mature, objective way in which we've handled these problems, coupled with our achievements so far this session, are clear indicators that we are on the road to reform. I also firmly believe that most students find in their elected council officials a new sense of leadership and a commitment for change. Give us a chance. Eleven years of the council have made a large and positive difference in the undergraduate life here. I invite everyone to actually stop by a council meeting (every Sunday, Sever 113, 7 p.m.) and watch us at work. I think that you'll like what you see, because you're right, "it is time for a change"--and we're well on the way to making it. Hassan A. Sayeed '96