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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

A Silent Demise for U.C. Reform?

By Barbara E. Martinez, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

The Undergraduate Council often appears a parliamentary monster. Meetings bogged down by lengthy debate and political maneuvering stretch past midnight. New members struggle to adhere to Robert's rules of order. Non-members question the body's efficiency.

Last semester the council formed an ad hoc committee to address these problems by reforming the council's bylaws and consitution. The committee met for six weeks and produced 16 bills that called for reforms ranging from reducing the size of committees to appointing a moderator to run the council meetings.

These bills were docketed for the last two council meetings of the 1996-97 school year. After lengthy debate almost all of the reform measures were postponed indefinitely.

"The only two that [passed] were extraordinarily minor," acknowledged William M. Jay '98, who chaired the reform committee.

These two were bylaw changes, which require a majority of the council to pass. The other bills were constitutional changes, which need three-quarters of the council to pass.

At the end of the year, fewer than 50 of 88 total members were present at council meetings. A notice was sent to the others by electronic mail requesting their votes.

Council Vice President Mark A. Price '98 is responsible for the voting. At the first council meeting this semester he announced that the bills failed to pass. Price has since declined repeated request for comment.

Charles A. Truesdell '99, who was an active member of the reform committee, said that many council members did not vote. He added that some members voted against the bills because they did not feel they had enough information to make constitutional changes, according to Truesdell, who was re-elected to the council in September.

"It was frustrating to see some of this work struck down simply because people didn't understand what was going on," Truesdell added.

Both Truesdell and Jay cited the "moderator bill" as one they thought would make the positive change in the council.

Currently, the president of the council presides over meetings. The proposed legislation would have given this power to a moderator elected by the council.

"The president or vice-president should be given more leeway to pursue an opinion," Truesdell said.

"You're electing the president and vice-president to pursue their own agenda," he added.

When Council President Lamelle D. Rawlins '99 has an interest in legislation being debated by the council, she passes the gavel to Price. If he also has a conflict, the council secretary moderates.

Had the moderator bill passed, it would have taken effect after Rawlins' term.

During the debate on the moderator bill, council members started to discuss the validity of voting on constitutional changes with so few members present at the debate. No record exists of the final votes on this legislation.

"I am particularly disappointed that the moderator bill failed," Jay said. "I think it was one of the most important reforms we could have done."

The reform committee decided not to introduce some of its more controversial proposals. One such bill would spin off the Campus Life Committee from the council. Any student would have been able to join the committee, which plans campus-wide services and social functions. These would be funded by the council.

The council did approve changes in office-hours policy. Members are now required to hold their office hours in their constituents' dining halls before weekly meetings.

According to Truesdell, council members have expressed interest in reconsidering some of the reform legislation.

[The reform bills] have not died," Truesdell said. "There is still interest in the student body.

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