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Council's Future At Stake in Today's Popular Elections

By Barbara E. Martinez, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

When students think of the Undergraduate Council, does gender discrimination or Yale tailgates come first to their minds?

As students head to the polls today in the election for the council's president and vice-president, the direction of the council--and of its increasingly prominent president--is at stake.

Observers say this race could be a watershed.

Students will vote whether to revert to the council's more traditional focus on student services or to push forward the socially progressive bent forged by current president Lamelle D. Rawlins '99 and her predecessor, Robert M. Hyman '98.

Eric M. Nelson '99, a council member for the last three years and a Crimson editor, said there is a contradiction in popular elections because the president is largely in charge of internal day-to-day affairs yet is now elected by the campus at large.

"The role of the president and the image of the president are very much out of sync right now," he said.

The 1996 reform of the council, which made the council presidency a popularly elected position, helped solidify the position of Hyman--who was elected president twice by the council and then once by the students at large, with Rawlins as his vice-president.

"It's safe to say his style changed," said Stephen E. Weinberg '99, who served two terms on the council and is now its technology coordinator. "He seemed to think he had a higher mandate when it came from the popular elections."

Hyman, observers say, began to use the presidency as a bully pulpit for liberal issues such as anonymous HIV testing at University Health Services, registration of voters for local elections, sponsoring Rape Aggression Defense classes, divesting the University's investments in Nigeria and launching of an ethnic-studies program.

In the meantime, the focus and prestige of much of the council's work shifted from its Campus Life Committee (CLC)--which puts on social events like Springfest and provides services such as shuttles to Logan Airport--to the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which can recommend policy changes to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 and to President Neil L. Rudenstine and other administrators.

The SAC has become a springboard for symbolic positions on issues like same-sex commitment ceremonies in Memorial Church and the protection of transgendered students under the council's anti-discrimination rules.

But the slate of candidates in this year's elections notably lacks an easily recognizable figure.

For the first time in recent memory, none of the candidates has previously run for president or vice-president. And Rawlins' decision not to seek a second term leaves the race an open field.

"It's a quieter group, just in terms of looking at the personalities that used to be running, much less of a personality type of campaign," Weinberg said.

"Many of these people have been very active on the council, but they haven't been as much of an icon for council leadership."

Advocacy Vs. Service?

Three students have emerged as the most prominent contenders for the presidency.

Jobe G. Danganan '99, in his second year on the council, boasts work on the council's task forces for shuttle buses and universal key-card access, and also a platform of social advocacy. Currently the president of the Minority Students Alliance, Danganan has the backing of groups such as the Black Men's Forum and RAZA--and also Rawlins' endorsement.

But Benjamin W. Hulse '99, a former council secretary and member since his sophomore year, has emerged in the last few days as an equally prominent candidate. Last night, Rawlins announced that she would urge students to rank Hulse No. 2 in their votes--a modification of her earlier unqualified support for Danganan. Hulse also has garnered the support of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Supporters' Alliance (BGLTSA).

"The most important thing is that the student body realize what's at stake in this election and elect a progressive president," Rawlins said in an interview. She acknowledged that she was "disappointed" that Danganan had not received the BGLTSA's endorsement. "I think strictly in terms of votes, Jobe has a more compelling record than Ben on BGLT issues," she said.

Meanwhile, council Treasurer Beth A. Stewart'00, who also is in her second year on the council, has plastered the campus with posters promising "Action, for a Change." Stewart, who interned this summer in the office of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and is a member of the conservative Salient, has vowed to move the council toward an agenda focused primarily on quality-of-life issues.

But the legacy of Hyman's and Rawlins' commitment suggests that Stewart's battle will be an uphill one. After all, most current council members have never known a president other than the pair.

"I think the presidency has a lot more power now," said Philip R. Kaufman '98, who ran unsuccessfully in both of the popular presidential elections. "Before it had no popular mandate."

"So much of your power when you're president of anything is a power of influence," Kaufman added.

Elizabeth A. Haynes '98, a former SAC chair and presidential candidate, correlated the Hyman/Rawlins emphasis on student affairs with drops in both the presidency's stature and in the student body's already flagging interest in the council.

Rawlins was a member of the Progressive Undergraduate Council Coalition (PUCC), whose members believed the council's main purpose should be as a voice for liberal causes. Many representatives from PUCC were elected in 1995, in largely uncontested house elections.

"Basically a lot of people came on, people who had great ideas about what was wrong about Harvard but not a lot about how to fix it," said Haynes, a vocal critic of Hyman.

She said that these representatives for the most part joined SAC, the prestige of which came at the expense of the CLC.

"SAC just exploded in terms of size," said Haynes, who presided over a SAC of about 40 members during her sophomore year.

Haynes said that the focus of the presidency shifted along with council members.

"The position in general has become a lot less charismatic...because the council spends a lot less time getting out and doing things with students," Haynes said, citing the decreased prominence of such social events as council-organized formals and trips.

"I really think this distinction between working for students and working with students is the biggest change in the council," Haynes said.

According to Weinberg, Rawlins has adopted a model of a president who sets an agenda and chooses people to lead task forces.

"It takes a much more active president who's much more willing to use the bully pulpit and work harder to organize things," said Weinberg, a vocal supporter of Hyman and Rawlins during his term on the council

Jobe G. Danganan '99, in his second year on the council, boasts work on the council's task forces for shuttle buses and universal key-card access, and also a platform of social advocacy. Currently the president of the Minority Students Alliance, Danganan has the backing of groups such as the Black Men's Forum and RAZA--and also Rawlins' endorsement.

But Benjamin W. Hulse '99, a former council secretary and member since his sophomore year, has emerged in the last few days as an equally prominent candidate. Last night, Rawlins announced that she would urge students to rank Hulse No. 2 in their votes--a modification of her earlier unqualified support for Danganan. Hulse also has garnered the support of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Supporters' Alliance (BGLTSA).

"The most important thing is that the student body realize what's at stake in this election and elect a progressive president," Rawlins said in an interview. She acknowledged that she was "disappointed" that Danganan had not received the BGLTSA's endorsement. "I think strictly in terms of votes, Jobe has a more compelling record than Ben on BGLT issues," she said.

Meanwhile, council Treasurer Beth A. Stewart'00, who also is in her second year on the council, has plastered the campus with posters promising "Action, for a Change." Stewart, who interned this summer in the office of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and is a member of the conservative Salient, has vowed to move the council toward an agenda focused primarily on quality-of-life issues.

But the legacy of Hyman's and Rawlins' commitment suggests that Stewart's battle will be an uphill one. After all, most current council members have never known a president other than the pair.

"I think the presidency has a lot more power now," said Philip R. Kaufman '98, who ran unsuccessfully in both of the popular presidential elections. "Before it had no popular mandate."

"So much of your power when you're president of anything is a power of influence," Kaufman added.

Elizabeth A. Haynes '98, a former SAC chair and presidential candidate, correlated the Hyman/Rawlins emphasis on student affairs with drops in both the presidency's stature and in the student body's already flagging interest in the council.

Rawlins was a member of the Progressive Undergraduate Council Coalition (PUCC), whose members believed the council's main purpose should be as a voice for liberal causes. Many representatives from PUCC were elected in 1995, in largely uncontested house elections.

"Basically a lot of people came on, people who had great ideas about what was wrong about Harvard but not a lot about how to fix it," said Haynes, a vocal critic of Hyman.

She said that these representatives for the most part joined SAC, the prestige of which came at the expense of the CLC.

"SAC just exploded in terms of size," said Haynes, who presided over a SAC of about 40 members during her sophomore year.

Haynes said that the focus of the presidency shifted along with council members.

"The position in general has become a lot less charismatic...because the council spends a lot less time getting out and doing things with students," Haynes said, citing the decreased prominence of such social events as council-organized formals and trips.

"I really think this distinction between working for students and working with students is the biggest change in the council," Haynes said.

According to Weinberg, Rawlins has adopted a model of a president who sets an agenda and chooses people to lead task forces.

"It takes a much more active president who's much more willing to use the bully pulpit and work harder to organize things," said Weinberg, a vocal supporter of Hyman and Rawlins during his term on the council

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