As students arrived on campus last September, classes, organizations, clubs and societies alike seemed to hit the ground running—that is, all except for the Undergraduate Council, whose flawed election schedule leaves students virtually without representation during the summer and the first month back in Cambridge. Instead of the president and vice president shouldering the burden alone—leading to logistical difficulties and stalling progress on ongoing projects—the UC should continue to meet with the same representatives as the year before, until elections determine a changing of the guard in October.
Student life does not pause for the first month of school, and many campus organizations with immediate organizational needs face frustration as they try to start the year with no functional UC in place. Without the Finance Committee in session to process paperwork, many organizations have no choice but to stall business until their grant applications can be approved or denied. Similarly, student issues do not disappear from one year to the next, nor do they lack import during the first weeks of the year. While the UC president and vice president have a history of remaining on campus throughout the summer to maintain project momentum—often with great success—functionally dissolving the UC in May leaves them alone to represent an entire student body until elections in October. No matter the prowess of the president and vice president, no two individuals can possibly hear and effectively address the multitude of concerns facing students across campus.
These shortcomings of the “lame-duck” UC should be remedied by reconvening representatives from the previous year each fall. Certainly, this system of representation has its pitfalls: Houses with senior representatives last year would lack a direct voice on the Council, and last year’s freshman representatives would now live in Houses instead of the Yard. But even such an imperfect solution seems superior to a system that deprives students of representation altogether. Since UC efforts often continue through the summer and into the following year, an interim assembly could easily focus on these ongoing issues until elections take place, waiting for October before choosing to address any new, large-scale projects.
Some fear that re-instating last year’s representatives—if only for a month—would give an advantage to incumbents during UC elections. Yet such concerns are outweighed by the importance of having a functional UC through September—one that can address student issues, provide immediate funding to student groups, and adequately represent the student body to the administration.
Addressing the UC’s prolonged period of inactivity, however, will not in itself ensure effective student representation on campus. Too often, UC members seem hesitant to address controversial issues facing their constituents. Specifically, the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), created to advocate for student interests, remained largely inactive in years past, and in so doing, lost many opportunities to bring campus-wide concerns to the attention of the administration. For instance, when party grants were discontinued in March 2008, students screamed their disapproval over open lists and in dorm rooms, from Mather to the Quad. However, SAC’s response did not seem to match the level of outrage present on campus.
No matter how effective the UC president and vice president are at negotiating with the administration, student representation will always be lacking until the UC can generate more widespread involvement in student issues. Until representatives once again return to their dining halls and common rooms with an ear for issues facing their peers, instead of choosing personal projects they alone deem worthwhile, the average student will continue to lack a voice in determining the policies they must later live by.
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