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The ultimate low-stakes, high-vitriol constitutional convention is coming to Harvard. This week, our peers will select their student government of choice via referendum — or, at least, their student government of choice from among two flawed, artificially limited alternatives.
On one hand, a deeply flawed constitution that has produced a dysfunctional, detached government rife with shallow social-media-based campaigns and unpopular enough to spark massive support for its abolition and those who’ve championed it. On the other, an extremely rushed, imperfect, and untested alternative in the shape of a Harvard Undergraduate Association.
We can’t, despite our long-held distaste for the current paradigm, support either. The new constitution isn’t good enough; its would-be predecessor is an outright mess. Our deeply-broken student government won’t be abolished more than once — and we can’t risk squandering our only shot at reform.
The current reform process, while aligned with our general desire to radically change the Undergraduate Council, was doomed from the start. It attempted to re-shape our student government through a process overseen by the student government itself, and hence imbued with its cutthroat toxicity. Any serious discussion of the merits of either document was, from day one, overshadowed by the antics surrounding the UC, ranging from the serious, like outright racist aggressions, to the infantile and petty, like locking leadership out of email accounts by changing passwords.
Amid an array of alleged threats, leaks, and attacks from UC proponents to other competitors and broadspread uncertainty among clubs about their future funding, we have grown weary of anything and everything linked to the incessant, Instagram-fueled drama.
The solution to the present chaos cannot be spun from and through its very fibers; it cannot take the form of a rushed document, drafted by a tiny sample of students, backed by an assembly mired by allegations of lackluster diversity.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be.
We need to go back to the drawing board — UC President Michael Y. Cheng ’22, who led an almost unprecedented, commendable effort to radically re-shape our government, must go back to the drawing board. In this redrafting process, it is important that we, the entire student body, are more involved. The well over 99 percent of students who were not a part of the citizens’ assembly should not be offering our input or critiques only after the referendum has been completed. Only then will we get an alternative we won’t feel forced to reject.
In the meantime, we can only offer our thoughts as to what this new government ought to look like. The caveat, of course, is that student government is plagued by a self-selecting, everyone-who-wants-to-run-is-exactly-who-we-would-seek-to-avoid problem. While systemic change can’t erase that completely, let alone guarantee a slate of laudable candidates, it can nudge us towards a healthier culture.
First, we would love to see House Committees play a bigger role in structuring our student government. They are, in our eyes, the perfect example of an on-campus institution that represents students’ interests and manages budgets effectively and quietly, devoid of the UC’s idiosyncratic theatrics. Their comparatively lower prestige has ensured that they attract people less predisposed to seek the center stage and more eager to put in the grunt work necessary to keep the wheels running. While there are some marginal disadvantages (the lack of freshmen representation, at least until after housing day, being top of the list) we would love to see an expanded role for House Committee members on the UC, perhaps even as representatives themselves.
That leads us to the question of representation and elections more broadly. We decisively back the HUA’s suggestion that we should directly elect specific roles like treasurer, giving them an added varnish of democratic legitimacy and promoting more policy-focused debate. Yet that need not come at the expense of a larger, more representative body — something the HUA would do away with, with its shift to only nine elected members.
Trying to find an effective constitution for a student body is difficult, to say the least. Harvard has a long, well-documented history of having a culture problem of students who choose to run for student office for all the wrong reasons, and peers who watch from the sidelines, eager to criticize but not to join a ticket themselves. We are plagued, internally, by a fast-paced culture that promotes success, power, and resume boosters over kind action. A culture that, for better or (usually) worse, defines those we elect to lead us.
We are not exempt from that; this is not just a UC problem. There are limits to what a constitution, any constitution, can change to fix this issue. But precisely because of that, we must be intentional and critical about the changes we seek to make, being careful that we don’t end up in square one, with none of the original momentum for reform. Until we’re offered an adequate alternative — until we get a seat at the table to help create that alternative — we cannot support the scramble to reform.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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