The Undergraduate Council election was a momentous occasion for only one reason: it didn't matter at all to most students. Only 23 percent of students bothered to vote, but that includes 700 first-years who, God bless them, didn't know any better. The vast majority (84 percent) of upperclass students did not vote. It is mildly ridiculous that the council will nevertheless claim to represent the undergraduate student body.
When in the course of student events, it becomes necessary for students to dissolve their political bands to an ineffective and illegitimate government they should not hesitate to do so. Most Harvard students have already abandoned the council, but they would do well to finish the job. The council has outlived whatever usefulness it once had, and should be officially disbanded.
Most council "representatives" are lovely people genuinely concerned about student welfare. For some reason, though, the council transforms their private virtues into public vice. Of late, even the most elementary tasks have been bungled. The repeated failures of the council voting system are well known, as is the quite miraculous resurrection of $40,000 of previously mismanaged funds. Critics love to recite these frequent and serious mishaps, but alone they are not sufficient reason for ending the council. The sins of predecessors should not be visited on current council members.
Unfortunately, even at its best the council is unnecessary. The bad old days of Burmese strawberries and California grapes are past thanks to Setonism, the reigning public philosophy of student government. However, this commendable shift to a focus on student services and campus issues may well have sowed the seeds of revolution by revealing the council's expendability. Since the election of Beth A. Stewart '00, the era of student-centered reforms has narrowed the purpose of the council, clearing the fog of high-faluting progressive rhetoric only to illuminate the ornery fact that the council fails at some of its most basic tasks. Stewart may prove to be the council's Gorbachev.
What little support there is for the council attaches itself to two of its functions, distribution of student group funds and advocacy for student services. The first could easily be given to students themselves. Rather than releasing $20 of each termbill to the council, students could direct it to their favorite group. With a mandatory $20 contribution and a fund for new groups, most organizations would notice nary a difference.
The council's advocacy for student services has recently achieved several scouncilcesses, redcounciled phone rates and fly-by lunches not least among them. But their advocacy too could be replaced. There is near-unanimous support for universal keycard access, a student center, and the like--students interested in advocating for council issues do not need the dubious mandate afforded by council elections. A student services club open to everyone would do just as well as the council, if not better.
The best argument in favor of student government is that someone ought to represent student opinion on issues affecting the College to the administration, which has real governing power. The council performed this role admirably and courageously during last year's ROTC debate, ultimately passing a resolution urging the administration to facilitate students' participation in the corps. However, shortly after the resolution passed in council vote, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 met with the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporter's Alliance and quickly announced that despite the council's opinion, no changes in University policy would be forthcoming.
The ROTC debate typified an emerging trend in campus politics. When it comes to hot-button campus issues, students have, by and large, left the council for issue-specific special-interest groups. And these new groups--the Progressive Student Labor Movement, the Coalition Against Sexual Violence, etc.--seem to have more traction with the administration, demonstrated by their recently won concessions. When Dean Lewis ignores the (supposed) interests of the entire student body to heed the concerns of a small and interested faction thereof, it is evident that student government is no longer the best avenue for influencing the administration.
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