By Josh Liston
The new UC president asks for students’ help in making the Council more effective.
By JOSH LISTON ’95
This week, the Harvard Independent goes back twenty years to the February 16, 1995 issue to showcase how the UC is attempting to garner student success. Given that students are in the midst of campaigning and gearing up for the 2016 UC elections, this article is relevant to our current culture of gaining student buy-in.
Last week I was elected president of the Undergraduate Council (UC) when 37 of the 86 UC representatives voted for me. That means that I became president because 0.58% of the student body believed that I was the best person for the job.
Popular mandate? Hardly.
To be honest, it is strange to be the head of an organization which, according to the Independent’s annual survey, is one of the three Harvard institutions that students would most like to see abolished.
All this prompts the question: Why would I want the job, anyway? And why should you care that I am your new President?
Like the other 86 Council members, I joined the UC – and now lead it – because I wanted to help other Harvardians. Contrary to the conventional wisdom offered by the campus media, typical members are not scandal-seekers or ambitious resume-padders. Nor are we out to propagate out own dangerous agenda. The truth is that we are simply normal students whose main extracurricular activity involves trying to improve conditions for all Harvard students.
But if we have such good intentions, you might ask, then why aren’t we held in higher regard by students?
To begin finding the answer, let’s try a little quiz: 1) Do you know what I look like? 2) Can you name the five UC representatives in your house or Yard district? 3) Do you know where the UC office is? 4) Have you ever called a UC representative when there was something about Harvard that really ticked you off?
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then you are probably already a member of the Council. If you answered “no” to most of them, then you are an average Harvard student. Most students, I’ve always believed, don’t actually hate the UC – they’re just indifferent toward it. Sometimes, that indifference leads to mistrust. The habitual lack of candidates for the fall elections is a good example.
Because the Council is simply an afterthought (if it is even a thought at all) for most students, they don’t even consider running. But this lack of candidates only compounds the general perception of the UC as an inept organization that doesn’t adequately represent the students.
Maybe the UC hasn’t done much to inspire your confidence. But if you continue to ignore us, you’re only contributing to our ineffectiveness. Without your input, we have little standing with the administration. We can’t claim to represent you if you won’t let us represent you. As President, therefore, my first priority is to reunite students with the UC. To be sure, I do not expect to change the popular opinion toward the Council overnight, but I’ve already started trying.
During my campaign, I eschewed the more pragmatic tactic of campaigning only to voting UC members, and instead dropped a one-page position paper to every room on campus. One of the main features of this “Contract With the College” was a pledge to send a member of the UC’s executive board to every room to inform students of Council activities, to solicit suggestions, and to encourage people to run for office next fall. It may not seem like much, but if the Council doesn’t reconstitute itself with the student body, it will sink deeper and deeper into irrelevancy.
This, then, is the two-fold challenge: to move the UC toward students so that it can better represent their concerns to the administration. The time has come for the UC to cease being an insular institution and to become, in every way, the student government of Harvard College.
Josh Liston ’95 is a Government concentrator who lived in Eliot House.