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Friday, December 02, 2005

Grimeland/Hadfield (Question 2)

Below is the Grimeland/Hadfield ticket's response to question 2:

UC representatives are not elected for their political opinions, and they cannot claim to legitimately represent the political interests of the student body. The Council should show restraint in passing resolutions in support or against highly politicized issues that divide the campus. These issues step beyond the mandate that UC representatives derive from their fellow students.

On the other hand, there are some “political” issues – the question mentioned the environment and AIDS – which the vast majority of students share a determination to address. The Undergraduate Council has an important role to play in launching new initiatives and increasing funding for student groups to address these concerns. The Council should not be afraid to get involved in advocacy in issues that affect student life and unite the vast majority of students.(more in expanded post)

There are clearly some highly politicized and controversial issues that divide rather than unite the campus. Would it be appropriate for the UC to pass legislation supporting or condemning President Summers? No. Following the legislation to support Harvard workers last month, one disgruntled member of the Council threatened to introduce his own legislation calling for the return of ROTC to campus to make his point – and ours – that the UC is not the forum for these hotly contended issues. The more politically charged an issue, the less likely it is the UC can claim to represent the whole student body.

How, then, should the student body voice its opinions on these divisive issues, and what’s the UC’s role? We believe that referendums are a useful tool for giving students an opportunity to voice their opinions on politically charged issues, and the UC has a role in providing such opportunities. The Wind Energy referendum is an excellent example – the College must now recognize that wind energy is a priority for 82% of students – not just a majority of the 51 Council members.

Our approach to seeking endorsements was to be very clear about our concrete proposals and how they affect each group. We talked about how our pledge to setup an endowment for student groups would lead to greater support for the Environmental Action Committee. We also shared some our experiences before coming to Harvard and, yes, some of our opinions on political issues so the student groups could get a feel for who we are and what we believe. That’s important. But we both recognize the limited nature of the mandate that students give UC representatives, and the UC leadership.

The UC, therefore, should confine itself to issues that affect student life and issues that unite the campus rather than divide it. In our conversations with student groups we have been honest about what we are pledging to get done in the next 12 months. We do plan to mobilize the campus, and get them excited about what student government can achieve. We will do this by launching big, bold initiatives that unite the campus, not by turning the UC into a political forum. Where important political advocacy issues divide the campus, the UC should organize referendums to give students their voice.

Please feel free to comment, question, discuss etc. Please limit your posts to 200 words each, though, and remember CC's policy on anonymous comments related to the UC campaigns.


At 3:50 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

So in other words, the UC should be involved in "political" issues only if there's a broad consensus?

Also, Tom, a question: you were involved last year in Swipe for Darfur. Should have passed a bill calling on Harvard to divest from PetroChina? Should it have had a referendum? How often should such referendum's occur?

At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Tom Hadfield said...

UC members can only legitimately claim to speak on behalf of the student body on political issues if 1) the issue affects student life, and 2) if the issue unites, not divides, the student body.

Magnus and I recognize there are grey areas. What's the quantative test for "vast majority support" or "broad consensus"? My suggestion would be for the UC to err on the side of caution. If you want to know what students think, ask them directly - not the 51 UC reps who got elected because they had funny slogans on their posters.

Yes, the UC should have enacted legislation to support the PetroChina divestment campaign. I spoke to hundreds of students about this, almost all of whom felt very, very strongly that Harvard should divest from a company that helped finance the genocide in Sudan. The vast majority of students supported divestment.

Equally, I would have been happy to see the UC organize a referendum on the subject. It's not time-consuming, nor expensive, and it provokes important debate on campus.

Referendums should occur more often. But if they happen too frequently, because they lose their impact. My biggest concern, though, is that they happen too infrequently, because then students are denied an opportunity to speak out.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Tom, no issue will unite all Harvard students. As students at an institution that challenges students to challenge EVERYTHING, divergent views are inherent to a liberal arts educational community.

Also, your slight to UC reps who are only representatives of their houses and Yard regions due to the fact that they had "funny slogans on their campaign posters" is harsh. If elected VP, your reception by this body of students would not be forgiving if they knew about this comment. Also, you obviously need to rely on this body of elected student reps to pass ANYTHING you and Magnus hope to get done and deriding their place in the elected student government isn't a good way to start that off. Good luck.

I'm glad you supported PetroChina because that is blatantly a highly political isssue.


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