Once again we find ourselves on the cusp of possibility for great change in the Undergraduate Council. The recent general elections were characterized by a significantly improved voter turnout among first-years, attributable in large part to the new vote-by-internet system. We hope that undergraduates will continue to increase their participation by voting in council elections. A high voter turn-out is one of the surest ways to bolster the legitimacy and accountability of our student government.
More importantly, the recent leadership election represented a strong repudiation of politics as usual. Robert M. Hyman '98-'97, the council's new president, has served one previous year. Likewise, Brian R. Blais '97, the new vice-president, has been a council member for a mere year. Old-timers Jonathan P. Feeney '97 and Rudd W. Coffey '97, although full of promise and competence, seemed to be ultimately done in by the stigma of experience.
Nevertheless, it is indisputable that both the debate for council leadership and the discourse during the general election attempted to address the core problem of the council--its legitimacy. This is something that we have been identifying for years. Once again, it is our sincerest hope that the council, reinvigorated under its new leadership, will work with humility and with earnestness to slowly build its legitimacy and credibility through a series of small successes. We hope that the new leadership will stay far away from the perennial bombast of big promises and silly circuses that has characterized our glorified dance committee for ages.
Council members: build on the U.C.'s core strengths. Trumpet the council's small, less glorious competencies--like airport shuttle bus services, concentration fairs and consensual statements on noncontroversial issues such as cuts in student funding--as indicative of its ability to represent the concrete and substantive issues that concern students, no matter how small they might seem at first. Buttress these strengths by consciously taking measures to mend the atrocious reputation of the council: Start campaigns to increase voter turnout for council elections, continue to increase student involvement in local politics with voter registration drives, educate students on the U.C.'s role and request input into how it might evolve to better meet students' concerns; and for heaven's sake, try to avoid scandal. If you can't avoid it, punish it mercilessly.
While students may have rejected the agenda of the Progressive Undergraduate Council Coalition (PUCC), the group's 31 members can be a positive force in reforming the council--provided they eschew the radical planks of their platform for those that truly represent their constitutents' interests.
Build on a series of contained successes to make the council's role congruent with the power the College has granted it and to decrease students' expectations of what it is capable of doing (i.e., no lofty and ultimately disappointing claims of being able to affect tenure or University investment decisions). The U.C. is not as powerful a body as the Faculty Council, and believing that it is can only lead to disappointment. We hope that disappointment will what students' appetite for more institutional power.
Only after a few terms, if not years, can a newly legitimized council appeal to the administration for binding decision-making power in its committee memberships and for greater jurisdiction over student-related areas of College governance. This stage will not come quickly, and certainly not in the present term. The path to this stage is boring and long, devoid of the punchy promises and mega-plans that usually guarantee electoral victory. But we hope that our present council membership will be far-sighted, and set themselves and the council on a course which will radically alter the meaning and the power of the council in the long run. They may not reap the glory today, but sometime in the future new generations will look upon them as the brave men and women who put an end to the bombast and just got down to business.