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College Council

Not to rain on the anti-cluster housing intellectual mob’s parade by bringing up another subject, or anything, but the Record‘s editorial this week on College Council is absolutely spot on.

College Council lacks the respect of the student body. And so we return to the theme that has been common on this page for far longer than we would like: CC absolutely must re-evaluate its role on campus, seriously reform its structure and find a way to be relevant to the vast majority of students who no longer take it seriously or care what it is doing…

So far this year, College Council has not accomplished results that would induce students to step up and submit a self-nom. CC has largely been on the sidelines of the cluster housing debate, oddly claiming credit for the delay of the Williams House System when the decision was made on concerns related to cost and dorm construction. As far as we can tell, Council’s only serious contribution to the cluster housing debate was the submission of a list of questions that had already been answered in public forums, complete with a thinly-veiled threat to the CUL. They also conducted, on behalf of the CUL, a basic survey of student perception of house quality.

The Record attributes Council’s irrelevance to two factors: Unweildy size and lack of a compelling agenda.

I’d have no problem with shrinking Council, as long as freshmen remain sufficiently underrepresented. The Record is completely correct that Council needs to start addressing other issues, a point that has been made before.

There is also a third problem CC suffers from. It has a meeting fetish. Stuff doesn’t get done when 30 people get in a room together and debate. As Godfrey Bakuli ’07 knows, stuff gets done when an informed student or group of students sit down and rationally explain something to the administration.

I was in a CC meeting a few years ago when they debated the College’s smoking ban and they decided to send a letter of protest to the administration stating that, and I’m paraphrasing, “no other college in our survey has a rule as to how far from a building you must be in order to smoke.” I informed I informed a Council member sitting near me that they must not have included Bowdoin in their survey because Bowdoin in fact had a much harsher rule. Literally the moment after he raised this objection somebody else moved to vote, it was seconded and the incorrect letter was sent. This is not how you effectively affect policymaking.

Council would be much more effective if it were a small group of students who saw their weekly meeting as only a minor part of the job of College Council. The real work is done by knowing what you’re talking about and using the prestige of your position to force the powers that be to listen to you.

Apparently, however, endlessly debating stupid letters is far more gratifying.

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#1 Comment By Amarnath Santhanam On March 2, 2005 @ 11:12 am

Brian Hirshman and I will do what we can to change the way CC operates if we are elected Co-Presidents next week.

#2 Comment By Loweeel On March 2, 2005 @ 11:18 am

Amarnath in power???

Wow. That’s an exciting idea. Hell, you have my (worthless) endorsement!

#3 Comment By David R On March 2, 2005 @ 3:42 pm

Haha… is this the same Amarnath that told me freshman year that he was very libertarian? Are you planning on bringing down CC from the inside?

#4 Comment By Loweeel On March 2, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

Ixnay on the ibertarianlay!!!

#5 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On March 2, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

While the Record’s editorial is certainly right in some respects (CC is too large, CC is unweildy, CC has a meetings fetish, and there is an unfortunately small amount of competition for seats this term), as a CC rep who has been very active in affecting positive change this past term, I’m upset that they blatantly ignore all of the work and changes CC members HAVE made. Yes, CC as a whole isn’t responsible for these changes, but CC as a whole shouldn’t be responsible for changes of this sort. CC as a whole functions best as the student voice to the administration (which I would argue this year’s CC has done an excellent job of), and as a funding body.

One area where I would particularly commend this year’s CC co-presidents in, is that they’ve led a council in which individual students have been encouraged and supported in their individual projects. I’d be happy to provide a full list of just what I’VE done as a rep on CC, and without too much trouble I could probably run through major changes other CC members have made. I don’t know if this would change your mind about CC’s effectiveness, but if you’re interested, let me know.

#6 Comment By David R On March 2, 2005 @ 7:29 pm

Noah, I don’t think that anyone doubts that CC gets something done, but I think the argument is more that it could get a substantially more done if certain changes were made. The fact that so few people care enough to nominate themselves to CC only further proves the point that the Williams student body has little respect for what CC does.

#7 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On March 2, 2005 @ 9:28 pm

I agree that changes should be made…I’ve been an active advocate for a smaller council for almost a year now. If cluster housing goes through, CC will likely be reformatted to work with the system. CUL has met with CC-campus already to discuss possible CC formations, and it looks like any new CC will be smaller (although it becomes difficult to shrink it too much). I am responding to the extreme negative tone of the Record editorial more so than the suggestions for CC improvement that they offer.

#8 Comment By David On March 2, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

As always, it is interesting to speculate how much of the apparent change in competition for CC seats is due to changes among the students and how much is due to changes in the selection mechanism.

Back in the day, CC representatives were overwhelmingly house based. AFAICR, each house had one rep, although some smaller houses were pooled. Elections were held at the start of the fall and spring semester. (This was on a different schedule that the campus wide posts, which were for a year term and held, as now, in the weeks prior to spring break.)

I think that having the elections be a physical thing, held in the house, generally during snacks, encouraged at least a little more competition. It wasn’t that we had lots of people running for each spot (I think it was mostly 1, 2 or 3 candidates at most), but that it was easy to, on the spot, see who was running and say, “Hey! I could do a better job than Dave Kane!”

It makes no sense to have elections for house spots in March. Why would anyone bother to run if they are highly likely not to live in that house come September?

#9 Comment By Amarnath Santhanam On March 3, 2005 @ 12:34 am

Haha… is this the same Amarnath that told me freshman year that he was very libertarian?

Yep, the one and only! ;-P

Are you planning on bringing down CC from the inside?

No! In the past I might have considered some kind of CC run to make a spectacle of myself and to make a point about Williams and national politics. However, the anchor housing debate has changed that. Brian and I are running on a core platform of a CC that is responsive to student opinion and needs in all ways–including getting student representatives on committees (like the CUL) to actually be representatives of the student body. We are very serious about this run for office and we hope to win.

#10 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On March 3, 2005 @ 1:28 am

Amarnath–

Short of not sharing your opinion, how have I failed as a representative of the student body on CUL (or am I not one of the “problem” reps you look to replace?)?

#11 Comment By Mike On March 3, 2005 @ 11:42 am

Noah: Frankly, I take you at your word that you have tons of accomplishments. Certainly, my impression is already that you do good work on campus. A few points: If the Record is not doing a good job of covering your or others in CC’s newsworthy accomplishments it’s because nobody tells the Record. Every Record editor reads the CC minutes and if something newsworthy is in there it is discussed at the Board meeting. In addition, I begged CC leadership when I was Record Editor to give us a weekly update on accomplishments and goals, and I think I received it twice the entire year.

Second, my criticism was not that there are not people on CC who accomplish projects. My criticism (and the Record’s this week — if I read it correctly — and the Record’s during the three years that I can speak for the Record’s editorial policy (01-03)) is that CC is almost always disengaged from the major issues until the last minute when an uninformed letter is hastily put together. There may be some hyperbole in what I just said, but not much.

#12 Comment By Tim On March 3, 2005 @ 1:18 pm

Mike: Now, having only been a journalist for about 32 years, I may be mistaken , but how difficult is it for a weekly paper to do the kind of investigation necessary to make note of the accomplishments made by student government?
If you were to recieve a press release for everything noteworthy on campus, what exactly would you be doing to earn that basement filled with free goodies that I toured during my last reunion?

#13 Comment By Mike On March 3, 2005 @ 2:51 pm

Tim: The Record (and to clarify, anything I say does not necessarily apply to any current editors) covered the accomplishments of College Council that the Editorial Board thought were newsworthy. If College Council gets an ice machine installed in East, I don’t think that’s newsworthy, but if they’re going to bitch that it isn’t covered then they should probably tell somebody about it.

I think the Record has always covered the newsworthy actions of College Council. I’ve also always been told we don’t cover College Council’s accomplishments. Yet nobody could ever give me an example of a newsworthy action College Council took that wasn’t being covered.

Part of the problem is the Record and College Council seem to have different interpretations of what’s newsworthy. That’s clear from the two editorials I linked to in the original post.

I’d be happy to point you in the direction of the investigative pieces the Record has done. Sadly, College Council in my time was infrequently newsworthy.

#14 Comment By Mike On March 3, 2005 @ 2:53 pm

BTW, the ice machine is a real example of a story the Record was criticized for not covering.

I report; you decide.

#15 Comment By Aidan On March 3, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

I always liked the Record under Needham’s tenure. Maybe that’s why I also like Fox News…it certainly was always ‘fair and balanced.’ To be fair, Needham’s Record did have to serve some roles that traditional journalism (though perhaps not Howell Raines) avoided. Because the Record was the only reliable, universally read, news source on campus, it ended up playing a much larger advocacy role than it might have liked. But that’s my own gloss on the issue…

Bottom line: the Record is now what College Council (allegedly) used to be: the information marketplace for Williams College students.

#16 Comment By Amarnath Santhanam On March 3, 2005 @ 10:43 pm

Hi Noah:

Short of not sharing your opinion, how have I failed as a representative of the student body on CUL (or am I not one of the “problem” reps you look to replace?)?

My impression has been that the student representatives on CUL, while working very hard, have solicited general input from the student body, come up with specific proposals, and then advocated for those proposals in the face of significant student opposition. If the CUL actually represented students, it would propose something students supported, and student representatives on the CUL wouldn’t have to try to convince the student body that the proposal is a good idea.

#17 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On March 3, 2005 @ 11:40 pm

Amarnath–

I think we disagree on a representative’s responsibilities. I think a representative’s responsibility is to solicit input from the student body, represent student concerns to the committee, represent the committee’s reasoning to the students, and then to draft a proposal based upon what they feel is best for students taking everything into account. Maybe you’re a pollster politician…I’m a little more idealistic than that.

#18 Comment By Amarnath Santhanam On March 4, 2005 @ 2:22 am

Fair enough, and we can agree to disagree on how we interpret the responsibilities of a student representative. I just believe in asking people want they want, as opposed to telling them what they want.

#19 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On March 4, 2005 @ 10:36 am

That’s fine, and I agree. You seem to imply that I haven’t been asking people what they want, and that is simply not the case.