A new era of student government began at Harvard this year with the advent of campus-wide popular elections for the president and vice president.
Formerly, only council members could vote candidates into the top positions, so the leadership of the Undergraduate Council was generally the result of back-room politics. But in the spring of 1995, the council voted in favor of popular elections in an effort to make the process more democratic and less hierarchical.
When the elections finally occured in April of this year, however, their reception took most observers by surprise.
The election electrified the normally apathetic campus like nothing in recent memory.
Candidates enlisted large campaign staffs, who conducted late-night strategy sessions over pizza and chips. They sought endorsements of student groups, and the endorsements of opponents when they dropped out. They cooked up pseudo-scandals against rivals and recruited students to speak on their behalf and rebut their opponents' salvos.
Campaigning was relentless. Fluorescent posters spattered kiosks and building walls. Candidates wheeled around the Yard in shopping carts screaming campaign slogans and even enlisted the help of Harvard Square totems like the Square Change vendors.
It was a dream come true for every budding Jim Carville at Harvard College.
In spite of the hype, only 45 percent of the student body participated in the election, which was conducted over Harvard's computer network.
Victor Robert M. Hyman '98-'97 garnered only 1,190 first-place votes--less than 20 percent of the College population--to win re-election to the council presidency. Outgoing council secretary Lamelle D. Rawlins '99 did only slightly better, with 1,313 votes, to claim the vice presidency.
While some council members declared the election had granted Hyman and Rawlins a broad popular mandate, the low turnout in the election seemed to counter their claim.
Even so, there was no doubt that students viewed the popular election as a turning point for the council. At the very least, the election brought the oft-maligned council closer to the students, according to vice presidential runner-up Tally Zingher '99.
"People really were making the effort to get out and talk to random students they didn't know," she said.
But the council cannot yet pat itself on the back, other candidates said. The increased scrutiny will magnify the council's successes and failures.
"The students will be very critical of the U.C. in the fall," said presiden- "If the U.C. isn't living up to what the president and vice president promised in their campaign, the students will notice that," he said. Though the council depends heavily on the administration for the support and success of its legislation, both the University and College administration seemed unaffected by the elections occurring right outside their office doors.
"If the U.C. isn't living up to what the president and vice president promised in their campaign, the students will notice that," he said.
Though the council depends heavily on the administration for the support and success of its legislation, both the University and College administration seemed unaffected by the elections occurring right outside their office doors.