Dr. Henry Jones (a k a Sean Connery) had a point in "Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade" when he reminded his son that "in this sort of a race, there's no silver medal for finishing second." In fact, few races offer consolation prizes--and I can personally attest that the election for Undergraduate Council president is not among them. In the last election, I had the dubious honor of finishing second, and I quickly discovered that the silver medal and a token could get me a ride on the subway. However, the second-place finisher may enjoy one perk: some may believe that his status as a former candidate qualifies him to be an election analyst. In what follows, I test this hypothesis by endorsing a pair of candidates in the upcoming council election, and offering my analysis of where the council is and ought to be going. If some of you accept my evaluation, then perhaps finishing second was not entirely without reward.
As a current council member, I urge you to vote for Beth A. Stewart '00 and Sam C. Cohen '00 for council president and vice president, respectively. They are talented and dedicated council members, and I have been privileged to work with them on a variety of issues over the last two years. As council treasurer, Beth has restored order and discipline to our fiscal situation after a period of flux and confusion. She has been a voice of common sense amid the clamor of silliness that so often besets the council, and she will do the student body proud as president. For his part, Sam has brought unrivaled energy and dynamism to his job as chair of the Campus Life Committee; many of you will have seen him staffing the shuttles to Yale and flipping burgers at the tailgates. Trust me, however, that their qualities and abilities recommend them far better than my words ever could.
Apart from Beth's and Sam's individual talents and attributes, however, there are far deeper reasons for the student body to vote for a change of direction. Winston Churchill once referred to the period in the 1930s during which Britain declined to develop its military as "the years that the locusts hath eaten." Much the same could be said of the last Undergraduate Council year (and, indeed, of the last two or three years). In all the fuss over Nigeria, Burma, grapes and the transgendered, something essential has been lost: relevance.
The Undergraduate Council will only become a relevant and legitimate part of the College community if it begins to address the issues that most significantly affect life at Harvard. This year, we have an unparalleled opportunity to make fundamental changes in Harvard's curriculum; your student government should fight to reduce the number of concentration requirements, eliminate the "grading gap," and engage the Faculty on the question of section sizes. Your student government should actively seek alternative sources of funding to increase the amount of money available to student groups, and it should press the administration to provide space for a true student center.
To effectively address these issues, your student government requires reform, the size of the Undergraduate Council should be reduced, the requirements for recalling delinquent representatives should be relaxed, the Finance Committee should receive separate status, and the council should accept a moderator to preside over its meetings (thus freeing the president to participate in debate). The council's Reform Committee adopted all of these proposals last spring, but the reform process was allowed to fizzle out. This year, the council should revisit these proposals and enact them speedily.
In short, student government has quite a lot on its plate, which makes the council's current practice of imitating a debate society on American foreign policy all the more unfortunate: we simply don't have time. In the upcoming election, you should seek a presidential candidate who has her eye on the bouncing ball. Beth Stewart is that candidate; she has never been confused as to what student government should and should not be doing. She understands that the Undergraduate Council will achieve legitimacy not by shouting at the wind, but by relentlessly pursuing an agenda that stresses services for Harvard students. Beth and Sam are committed to leading your forward, and this old war horse hopes you will give them a chance.
Eric M. Nelson's column appears on alternate Mondays.
Election advice from an old war horse.