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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

overstepping its bounds

Despite its success in the realm of self-important and ill-informed opinion-making, the Harvard Crimson (HRC, I mean, THC) somehow found its way back to the perilous business of criticizing anyone who actually does anything-- this time going after the Undergraduate Council for a relatively moderate and overwhelmingly-passed vote of support for Harvard's poorest workers. While self-important and ill-informed, the Crimson staff must abstain from issuing any opinions relative to things about which they are fundamentally not informed including: the undergraduate council, campus activism, campus politics, national politics, international politics, sex, compassion, race, gender, poverty, history, philosophy, North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia or Australia. They may continue to write regular staff eds on Antarctica and beer...

Today, the Crimson staff ed bloviated that the UC should not make "political statements" about things like worker's wages. It's not just that I was compelled to ponder the disturbing trend of the Crimson Ed Board falling in line with the Harvard Republican Club's party line, I felt like I was in some sort of weird time warp. I thought to myself something like this: THEY ARE AN ELECTED STUDENT GOVERNMENT, WHOSE JOB IT IS TO MAKE POLITICAL DECISIONS. ALL OF ITS DECISIONS ARE POLITICAL, YOU RAVING MORONS.

Why don't we look at it this way: the Harvard Crimson editorial board- unrepresentative, unelected and unaccountable- believes that it should have more political power in a administration's policy toward Harvard workers (they, after all, wrote two staff eds on the subject) than an elected student government who's constitution clearly states: "We, the undergraduates of Harvard College , are an important part of the University community, and are therefore entitled to an active role in deciding its policies and priorities." (more in expanded post)

Ok, let's try to give their opinion that the UC shouldn't be involved in "political issues" a generous reading...

Maybe the word they meant to use was partisan. It's true that the UC shouldn't be a partisan body making declarations that divide people up as Democrats and Republicans. Although, they couldn't have meant that, since the bill was supported by four out of the Harvard Republican Club's eight fall candidates and valiantly defended by a Council member who was once a candidate for the HRC's board.

Or wait, maybe they meant that the UC's constituents were unsupportive. No, probably not that either, since UC members I have heard from (including one who voted against the bill) have noted that this bill got them more positive feedback and email during their outreach before the vote than anything they've done all year.

Maybe it meant that the UC should stick to some sort of precedent about politics. Oh, wait, I forgot about the fact that the Council involved itself in countless environmental policies last year, appoints a representative to the Shareholder's Board of Corporate Responsibility (or something similarly titled), and even under, SHOCK, Rohit Chopra supported a controversial bill that attacked the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT for drug policy, not to mention the fact that the Council voted during the Living Wage campaign of 2001 to support the cause, but not the tactics.

Maybe what they were concerned about was the idea that this wouldn't actually help the workers, and would alienate the Council leadership from their counterparts in University Hall. Oh wait, silly me, the Union people I spoke to were excited about the bill as something that would help them at the negotiating table and, oh, right, a few high up people in University Hall (like, real high up) have told Council leadership that they support the bill and are happy to see the Council take it up.

I'm trying to think if there was anything in this morning's staff ed that wasn't simply ill-informed, self important hackery (no, I'm not talking about the HRC). Oh yes, there was one accurate part: "The resolution also “calls on the University to honor the explicit promises it made to custodial workers in 2002.”" That part is true.

26 Comments:

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Jim

 
At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If all of that stuff is true, I'm not reading the dumby Crimson staff eds anymore. Wow.

 
At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! They are "hacks." Why don't they at least sign their names, the cowards?

 
At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crimson Ed Board = Bitchslapped.

 
At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you've all forgotten when the UC under Sujean Lee passed political resolutions that marginalized their mission to the student body.

Golis, you call the staff opinion ill-informed, but then don't engage the opinion on any of the issues. You simply content yourself with saying that the UC is a political organization and thus all its decisions are political. Well, some decisions are more political (and more appropriate) than others. Nuance your arguments dude. Attack the argument, and give some specifics for chrissakes.

Who are the administrators who were "happy" (according to you) to see the UC coming out with a political stance that undercut Harvard's bargaining position? Are they Dean Gross, Judith Kidd, or Paul McLoughlin? Because I sure hope they are, since the UC works with them every day. I sure hope this resolution didn't alienate them by injecting a clear bit of political discourse into a so-far positive UC-UHall relationship this year. Give us specifics, then your argument would be convincing.

So this was the most well-received bill the UC has passed so far, eh? How do you measure that? Is it okay that this bill will come across (at least according to your omniscience of the campus debate) as one of the UC's greatest triumphs this year? What does it say about an organization that failed to properly oversee the HCC that the only things it can pass effectively are political statements?

Finally, you never answer the editorial's contention that UC members are not elected for their political views, and so political statements from the UC are not in any way reflective of the campus' opinion.

Look Golis, you're letting your intense partisanship on this matter de-complicate your arguments until they become nothing more than contending that the Crimson Staff is "ill-informed." In the real world, arguments need proof. You'd do well to tone down your rhetoric and stop alienating readers like me who think both your site and the Crimson Staff have interesting pieces to add to the campus debate.

 
At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah Golis, I agree with the last guy. The essential argument is whether or not the UC should be passing bills about the living wage, etc. UC representatives aren't elected for their political views--they're elected for their party-planning prowess or their skill at advocacy, or their popularity, etc. The fact that 20-something Crimson editors came out against a living wage at least by a bare majority says that it's not easy to guess where the student body stands on this issue.

In any case, I think the UC would have been better off running a student poll about the issue and then presenting the results, rather than merely passing a bill out-of-hand. A student poll conclusively showing that the student body supported the janitors would be in line with the UC's role--funnelling student opinion into sensible policy recommendations. They weren't funnelling student opinion here at all.

To call the staff editorial, which I read for probably the first time I've read any of their stuff, ill-informed is just a way to cover up the fact that you disagree. The editorial certainly wasn't ill-informed, it was just an argument that you disagree with. I think you're being unfair.

 
At 12:45 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

While I may have been too flippant and not explicit enough in making the point, if you read the post again it is there. The basis of my contention is that the very presuppositions of the Crimson editorial are fundamentally wrong. Those presups are:

- As noted above: "UC representatives aren't elected for their political views--they're elected for their party-planning prowess or their skill at advocacy, or their popularity."

This is not only far too charitable to the election system of representatives, which is based on nothing but who people like and who people think would work hard, not who "would be a good advocate in UHall" or who "would be a good party planner." This is more accurate in relation to campus-wide elections, but still wrong. Take, for example, the fact that the Harvard Republican Club endorses candidates and tells their entire membership to vote for them. Take the fact that Glazer/Capp was endorsed by and got a large amount of political energy from the campus center left: the Dems, the Environmental Action Committee, the BGLTSA, the Perspective, the Secular Society etc. What about the fact that Christian organizations mobilized against them because they didn't believe in funding Christian groups who have discriminatory constitutions? The Crimson likes to act like there isn't politics involved, but even they endorse and comment on a ton of these policies.

- As the last line of the column says: the UC is "squandering its power and time by dabbling in pointless political manifestos."

Did the Crimson ask people in UHall if they would be upset at the UC's stand? In what way, do tell, would it "squander power" if Matt has been told by people in UHall (you can ask him if he would like to tell you who, the info was shared with him confidentially) that they support the move. How was this "political manifesto" useless? Did they ask the labor people if it were helpful? Because they told me it was going to be helpful.

- The UC used to be involved in "politics" and now it isn't.

This misunderstands the idea of "politics." The point I made above is that while the UC has (thank God) stopped making empty political statements about national and international politics that are unrelated to administration policies, they have continued to be involved in political issues that effect students and administrative politics for a long time: environmental sustainability, drug policy, corporation investments, etc. The Crimson (like the Harvard Republicans) are upset about this issue because they disagree, not because of the principle, especially since it has been supportive of these other "political" stances in the past.

Hopefully this clarifies my point. When I wrote the post this morning, I was writing from frustration and with maybe a little too much zing, but the points stand.

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lest we forget, you're roommates with the president of the Undergraduate Council and also an active member of SLAM. I wouldn't be surprised if you wrote the legislation yourself, along with Glazer. Sounds like a conflict of interest here...

Your all-caps rant is ridiculous -> who says it's their job to make political decisions? What percentage of UC members are elected because of their politics, as opposed to their experience and promises regarding improving student life? If their constitution says it's "their job," then maybe their constitution needs to be changed. Who created the past constitution? The students, or the UC?

 
At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should also be noted that The Crimson decided to write its editorial before HRC's statement, it just didn't come out until today. So your implication that The Crimson is somehow deciding to follow HRC's party line is false. But, it should be admitted, pot shots at The Crimson are always gratifying.

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Take, for example, the fact that the Harvard Republican Club endorses candidates and tells their entire membership to vote for them. Take the fact that Glazer/Capp was endorsed by and got a large amount of political energy from the campus center left: the Dems, the Environmental Action Committee, the BGLTSA, the Perspective, the Secular Society etc. What about the fact that Christian organizations mobilized against them because they didn't believe in funding Christian groups who have discriminatory constitutions? The Crimson likes to act like there isn't politics involved, but even they endorse and comment on a ton of these policies."

This is true, but while these groups would like to think that they have a big effect on elections, I'm not convinced that this is the case. The "mobilization" of Christian groups, for example, amounted to little more than a couple of emails over an open list. Leftist groups only endorse a few "true believer" candidates, and HRC's actual influence in elections is doubtful. The Dems probably helped Glazer-Capp a lot, but ultimately The Crimson's endorsement was more valuable, as we saw from the VP race. Also, you could make the case that the Dems supported Glazer-Capp in part because they knew they were the most qualified candidates as much as they based it on ideology (and actually, HRC has been known to endorse "moderate" Democrats like Polly Klice). So the field is muddy and I think your claims are too strong.

 
At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny that the "Christian organizations mobilized against [Glazer/Capp]" when they were the only campaign last year that was actively courted by that campaign. You should know better than anyone else, Andrew, that this is bologna...

Relax a little, seriously.

 
At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"they were the only campaign last year that was actively courted by that campaign"

?

 
At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew-

I found your post rather interesting, and while I disagree with many of the claims that you make, I do think that the impact of this resolution has been felt, in that it has already begun to misdirect the attention of the UC at a time when there are much larger fish to fry. My question is why are we wasting time debating this issue when we have the Wyclef failue, social programming, and a host of other more important issues to deal with? Regardless of your leanings on the subject matter, this shouldn't be a questions of politics, but one of priority. What's more important to the UC - debating something which other parties are already addressing (SLAM, the College), or actually doing the jobs to which they were elected?

I've made my decision. With all due respect, I wish that for the good of the Harvard undergraduate community you'd reconsider yours.

Sincerely
-Connor Wilson

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=509859

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is almost like Wag the Dog. The UC is in the midst of some very public failures (though I still support the UC!), and it's distracting attention from those by passing pro-SLAM statements.

 
At 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(regarding the above post, which was mine): excuse me, I didn't mean pro-SLAM statements. I meant statements in support of Harvard University honoring its promises to janitors.

 
At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think that the UC passing a resolution in support of workers is zero-sum with their ability to deal with these "more important issues"- social planning, structural reform etc. It is entirely possible for the UC to address an on-campus issue that doesn't involve alcohol and social events while also doing the latter, which isn't a bad thing.

Additionally, it's not like the UC is passing a series of entirely irrelevant political resolutions endorsing highly controversial issues which have no impact on the campus whatsoever. The resolution in support of the workers is an on-campus issue, and nothing more than that. That is by definition the purview of the UC, whose responsibility it is to represent the students interests and to respond to the students requests.

Whether the resolution is in the interest of the students is of course up to debate, which could obviously be accomplished during the UC meeting. And as to the UC responding to student interests/requests, the fact that SLAM obviously would endorse the resolution doesn’t mean it’s some unbelievably partisan issue representative of a student mintority. There are issue-specific campaigns and groups on campus whose issues pertain to the lives of every student, and who have support from students not integrally involved in the campaign. If students indicate an interest in the UC facilitating a group, an issue, or a statement somehow, then it is up to the Council to decide whether or not they will. To say that this somehow isn’t their job is ridiculous. Does the UC have no role in supporting students in their efforts to raise tsunami relief with a grant or cosponsoring an event? Do they have no role in endorsing an on campus discussion about diversity? That just seems absurd. When the UC chooses to give material support to a student group, they are endorsing and furthering whatever its cause. When a group needs not material support but only endorsement, then that demand/request deserves the same careful consideration as any grants package. A grant to a student group is fiscal support + endorsement. Why can’t they just debate the latter? No endorsement and silence is an effective statement of no support. It's just that simple; it means that the UC has deemed this not to be relevant or not significant enough to be addressed, and if they and the students don't want that to be the case, then resolutions like these are integral to the function of the UC.

If the HRC is so critical that the UC is endorsing something that doesn't have the "broad popular support," they could have easily sent e-mails to their UC reps after the issue came up in SAC. It's not as if this one came out of nowhere, the deadline was pending, and the resolution had passed in committee.

As to the mildly offensive claim that this somehow “weakens the negotiating” position of the UC vis a vis the administration, there’s something to be said for the idea that this *is* a negotiation between the students and the administration. And if the students support this resolution, based on input from constituents and debate within the UC, then that’s what the UC should do. If the administration is against dining hall hour extension, should the UC not pass a resolution in support of it because that would weaken their position on the curricular review? No. Obviously there will inevitably be some prioritization of initatives the UC takes on. But that is up for debate, and shouldn’t be proscribed by anyone. The UC is meant to respond and act on student interests and requests as they arise. With internal debate and input from students, they will decide which of these to move forward on. It’s not a zero sum game, it doesn’t hurt students, and if anything, it restores the legitimacy and presence of a student government that actually has a role and is in touch with the student body, instead of a group whose impact is difficult for some to see and measure.

 
At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golis, you jump on the Crimson editorial board bandwagon when you agree with their opinion, and you bitchslap them when you disagree with their opinion. If you disagree with their opinion, fine, but attack the ideas, not the institution.

 
At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He did.

 
At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny. I actually think the UC would have had more of an impact on "student life," by passing a resolution supporting OTC Plan B instead of a resolution supporting janitors. How do janitors have anything to do with students on a practical level (don't get me wrong, I love janitors)? I'd be a lot more worried that my gf might get pregnant because she has to wait for a prescription.

 
At 4:30 PM, Blogger JMcCambridge said...

Let me offer a quick thought on something that bothers me about this entire discussion.

At what point did the protection of students become political? How is this being defined in strictly political terms? I would argue that the UC, as opposed to taking a stance based upon personally held political viewpoints, aligned with national party stances, stepped up in its role as the advocate for the student body.

It is fairly evident that, if a resolution was not reached in this contract negotiation, students would have been gravely harmed. What if all these workers went on strike? What if all of the sudden we had a massive work disruption that shut down the physical operations of the college? What if the FMO staff, because Harvard was so heavy handed in negotiations, chose to actively oppose maintenance around campus? I do not mean to suggest that this was within their thinking, but I would be concerned about this possibility.

Viewed from a slightly less self-interested student viewpoint, I would suggest that the compensation, health, and welfare of the people that support the operations of the College is specifically within the realm of the UC's advocacy responsibilities on campus. The UC is not a amalgam of like-minded politicians. The UC is a diverse (though perhaps not diverse enough) representation of the College student population. As a democratically elected body, that actively accesses student opinion, I would suggest it is reasonable that these representatives would take a position on an issue that GREATLY affects and effects student-life.

I am frustrated by Harvard's negotiations tactics in many areas - this includes reservations with what happened on Mt. Auburn Street (the Library Administration building), artificial regulations on student life, and ongoing problems that are created through a general disregard for anything involving the welfare of the College.

Back to my opening point about the health of Harvard workers, when did it become unpalatable to work to protect and support the people that do the same for us? If compassion and active support of friends has become a political stance, simply because it is related to unions and monetary negotiations, then the conservative political agenda has completely hijacked the non-political values of compassion and transported them into the realm of partisan politics. I categorically oppose this effort.

Finally, if the UC had chosen to blindly endorse the Communist party's position on Harvard worker's compensation or if the UC had resolved that it supports the political agenda of the SEIU, then I would take issue. Instead, the UC stepped up to take an active and necessary role in advocating for students and for the workers and friends that protect and support us.

I have other complaints and concerns, so I apologize that I have not protected my argument by recognizing all the complaints that could be made about my position.

Please accept this post as another perspective, though one that has its own flaws.

 
At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Guess Why said...

Mr. McCambridge, wonderful post indeed...

 
At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I found most troubling about the entire SLAM, Harvard, janitors discussion was that SLAM made it a habit of spreading misinformation. An example: SLAM repeatedly stated that Harvard had failed to keep its promise of having 60% of the janitors employed full-time. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a load of crap. The 60% figure was a contractual goal, not a promise, something that wasn't disputed by the Harvard janitors union. Disagreement about how well Harvard had done in meeting that goal was legitimate, but to say Harvard broke its promise was wrong. Unfortunately, SLAM's misinformation spread its way into the UC resolution. So instead of bitching about the Crimson, Golis, I would prefer it if the organizations with which you associate speak the truth. I'd like to ask for an apology from SLAM on behalf of the student body, for deliberating misleading students and their representative government.

 
At 12:19 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I have never heard this, where did you? If that's true, I'd certainly admit that I was wrong about that fact (although I'd still advocate the same opinions). I would love to find out whether or not this is true so that I can ask up and find out who is wrong/not telling the truth/making an honest mistake...

 
At 12:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

some late thoughts( i cant believe im actually doing this)

to whoever said that uc reps should poll before each vote...that's just ridiculous...it would be ideal if this was a direct democracy system...but its not...now i do believe that uc members should talk to their constituents about what's going on and get a view...those emails over the house lists are helpful in those houses that do get them... but when was the last time your congressman called you to find out what you thought about gun laws?

as to the actual issue...it is what it is...slightly political...but should the uc stop everything else in the wak e of the failing concert...events have been failing for years...if all stopped with each failure we might not have universal key card access and whatever else it is that they push for...its not overly partisan and it deals with the campus...i think that's the most important point...the uc helped sponsor a commison with nahc last year...was that wrong? some people may not like native americans, maybe they shouldnt have looked into that...really, its not that serious, get over politics and just be real at some point...

 
At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Golis-
Your argument proceeds roughly as follows. UC is a student government. Governments are political. Hence, UC is inherently political.
Clearly, you didn't read the editorial closely enough. It very clearly differentiates between "improvements in student life and student services" and "political" activities. This made it clear that it meant political stances OUTSIDE of these realms. It also made it very clear that these anything beyond student life and student services are outside of UC's mandate (which is what the China resolution anecdote was about).
Now I know you are going to say that the UC's resolution is not as clearly "political" (as defined above) as the China resolution. And that is a valid point--it is clearly in the middle. The issue becomes where you draw the line, and the editorial has a clear point about where the line should be: the UC should work on STUDENT life and services, where the UC can bargain with the administration on behalf of its constituents, and stay away from NON STUDENT issues and issues that COLLEGE administrators have no control over.
They gave two reasons - first nobody is elected to the UC because they are liberal or conservative but because they want to do things like extending dining hall hours. Hence, that is where their mandate is. Second, they should leave it to the other student groups--which clearly show there is divided opinion--instead of just proclaiming what the student body thinks.
So, if you want to argue with The Crimson, you should start by addressing why the line should be elsewhere, not that there should be no line at all, and address their reasons as to why the line should be where they say where it should be. You only do this superficially.
However, I must admit that I did enjoy the fact that you wrote it as a mad lib, essentially using the language of the crimson editorial and proving, once and for all, just how beautifully they write :)

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he covered all of that shit above, my friend. You should read his first comment.

 

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