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Twelve months ago, Harvard College students elected John S. Haddock ’07 to be president of the Undergraduate Council (UC) for 2006. Haddock’s promise to “fix the UC” propelled him to an almost messianic status and a landslide victory. Yet today, students are no more enthusiastic about the UC than they were a year ago. And it’s not because he broke his promise.
No, Haddock has successfully overseen the UC restructuring that he pledged. So why are we still discontent? I think it has less to do with Haddock’s competence than the invisibility of his leadership.
Not only have Haddock’s accomplishments had minimal immediate impact on students, Haddock himself has been a strangely aloof figure. At no point this year have I seen John Haddock in my House dining hall, asking for students’ opinions on pressing issues. I didn’t see him leading cheers at the Harvard-Yale tailgate. I haven’t even received e-mails from him, explaining how his vision is coming to fruition.
Thus, even though John Haddock successfully implemented the core of his campaign platform, he will not be remembered as a great UC president. Actually, he won’t be remembered at all.
Which is saddening, because the College would benefit immensely from a UC president with presence. A school of 6500 students like ours needs a few campus-wide recognizable characters to promote a sense of campus community and a unifying Harvard’s consciousness. Like it or not, the UC leadership is better placed than any other group to fill these roles. Its reach is, theoretically at least, unrestricted to any particular student organization or group. Thus, not only do we need a president who delivers tangible results, but one that also creates a campus-wide buzz in the process.
Too often it seems that once the UC president is elected, he is caught up in the clouds and taken to be with Dean Gross for eternity. The new president should realize that the UC’s value to students lies not only in the once-in-a-while concessions it extracts from University Hall, but also in the entertainment it provides (i.e. the debate it promotes and the celebrity status it can grant to certain leaders). Whether pushing for calendar reform or a student endowment, the UC’s new chief shouldn’t slink into the shadows of presidential duty. He must embrace the campus-wide spotlight that is the UC presidency.
Some cynics might argue with me by saying that a UC president has no business in hogging up the social spotlight, and that the post is bestowed in order to accomplish something, regardless of visibility. There is certainly some degree of truth in this, but I’m afraid it is to conceive of politics in a very limited sense; of course leaders are meant to be do-ers, but they are also meant to be community representatives, students who are not merely servants of the college, but also symbols of them as well. Politics is, and has always been, about this too.
Others will say that I am taking the UC too seriously in thinking that the UC president should be considered a central figure on this campus. But the gravity of the role has little to do with the social cachet the presidential post already has. Rather, it concerns the respect and reach that a UC president might have.
I harbor no particular resentment toward Mr. Haddock. The problem of presidential anonymity seems to be institutional rather than isolated to his tenure. Further, I would conjecture that John Haddock is even a “fantastic guy”— as his now pulled-down campaign website testifies he is— and that he has “worked tirelessly for students.” (I assume as much of all UC presidents.) But that is not enough. A UC president should inspire us. Or, failing that, he should enrage us, polarize us, or simply amuse us. Anything but bore us.
UC presidents of the future, keep us entertained.
Nikhil G. Mathews ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Mather House.
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