I'll admit, my initial reaction to the news that "a teary-eyed" David L. Hanselman '94-'95 had announced his intention not to seek a second term as Undergraduate Council president was an overwhelming desire to retch.
After all, I thought, Lyndon Johnson was able to make it through a nationally televised speech declining a second term as president of the United States without bawling. And though it's true that Hanselman is a sensitive '90s man--and sensitive '90s men are wont to shed a tear in public now and then--it's also true that the council presidency isn't quite as big a deal as the presidency of the United States. Hanselman's unabashed display of vulnerability, I thought, was nothing but a cheap publicity stunt.
The I reconsidered. Hanselman did take his council presidency seriously--almost too seriously. During his campaign, he sent reporters thank-you notes on "David Hanselman, Candidate for U.C. President" stationary. His "statements" were labeled "for immediate release." The guy probably showers in a coat and tie.
But if, at times, he got caught up in the drama of leading Harvard's student body, Hanselman was also one of the most competent council presidents in recent memory. Not only did he lead the organization through a scandal-free semester (no small feat, in light of the corruption that plagued the last two administrations), but he succeeded in pushing the council to take stands on issues of importance to students: whether the College adopts a one-dean or two-dean administrative structure, for example, and how the University should handle its ties to ROTC.
To be sure, there were missteps, including Hanselman's silly, short-lived proposal to have the council donate money to a fund for ROTC scholarships. But the council under Hanselman did not get bogged down in bickering between representatives more interested in garnering headlines than serving students.
In short, Hanselman was an effective president precisely because he was so serious about the job. I now believe that his tears were genuine, and that he honestly feels the council needs "more energy and conscientiousness than a second-semester senior can provide." I disagree with that point--because I think it really depends on the senior--but I think Hanselman should be commended for his honesty and commitment to the council.
I hope that, under its next president, the council doesn't squander the gains it has recently made. That could happen if Hanselman, as expected, endorses Randall A. Fine '96 as his successor.
Fine would not make a good president for the council at this point. Though he has kept a relatively low profile this year, Fine's tenure on the council has been marked by repeated allegations of corruption and wrong-doing. And despite Hanselman's assertion that "Randy has all the best intentions." Fine has not achieved any notable successes for students. If Fine wants a council executive position, he should work hard over the next semester, keep his nose clean, and wait until next year.
The organization's future will be most secure if it chooses Brandon C. Gregoire '95 as its leader. Gregoire, the council's vice-president, is an honest, proven leader who has dedicated the last three years to the council. Another fine choice would be Rudd W. Coffey '97, co-chair of the council's student affairs committee. Still, Coffey is young, and might do better to serve as vice-president for a semster, before assuming the presidency next fall.
As in a fragile democracy, the coming transition of power is important to the council. If the organization chooses well. Hanselman's accomplishments will not have been in vain. If it chooses badly, this semster's achievements could soon be just a memory.
Stephen E. Frank's column appears on alternate Fridays.