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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Voith/Gadgil (Question 1)

Below is the Voith/Gadgil ticket's response to question 1:

On a campus that operates with a decentralized house system and no student center, the Undergraduate Council’s role on campus should be that of a unifier, bringing together groups of people to voice their concerns and synthesizing multiple opinions to achieve the best possible result. A “student government” has a twofold purpose: identifying the needs of the student body and formulating ways in which to address those needs. A good student government is one that gives students what they want, and the best way to determine what students want is simply by asking them. Student voice is paramount. (more in expanded post)

The major principle that is touched upon throughout our platform is that students deserve a voice in all aspects of their life at Harvard, whether through social programming, student groups, or advocacy interests. It is not good enough to cast off social programming to the Dean’s office just because the structure of the UC right now is not conducive to throwing consistently successful events – rather, we must find a way to preserve student voice by reforming the way that the UC approaches social programming. We think that students know what students want, and we will fight to maintain student voice. When it comes to student groups, the UC must make sure that it is not just playing the role of bank. The UC must provide structural support to these groups, serving as a bridge to the administration to help student groups solve their problems. In deciding upon its position on advocacy issues, the UC must solicit input from the student body. When a bill is presented to support workers at Harvard, the UC must engage the campus in a debate to determine the campus sentiment and open a dialogue before making decisions.

The ultimate role of the UC is to make your voice heard to the administration, and making your voice heard does not have to take the form of legislation. The UC is not affiliated with a race, gender, or political party, and is in a unique position to be a facilitator of conversations between different groups of people. We do not think enough has been done to make the UC a true facilitator of debate on this campus, and we are committed to ensuring that it provides a true forum for discussion in the future. Currently the “business as usual” attitude of the UC is what cripples its potential. While the UC plays an essential role on campus by handing out money to student groups and writing legislation, it should also provide a forum for discussion between students.

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 4:05 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

So, I know that all of you guys have played up this whole "student voice" thing, and I think it's a good intention. What I don't understand, though, is how it actually works. The UC has hosted forums and townhalls and no one shows up, even last night's debate wasn't exceptionally well-attended if you consider how many students will eventually vote. UC members have been told specifically (by Matt, and Matt before him and Rohit before him) to hold regular office hours with their districts: they don't do it, and when they do people rarely talk to them!

What would change? Why would people suddenly want to come to townhalls? Would you try to get better UC members elected or require them to do better outreach? What would the punishment be if they didn't do it? How would you know whether or not they did it?

Again, I think this comes from a good place, but I just don't get what would make this suddenly plausible...

At 5:35 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Like Golis, I appreciate the sentiment, but I'm unclear as to what the plans would actually look like.

Even if you could somehow succeed at getting more student buy-in and input, it seems like there would be other problems to address regarding when and how you solicit that input. For instance, how would you determine which bills warrant the UC engaging the campus in debate before making a decision? The Harvard workers bill may seem like a clear example, but what about something like the recent decision to award a grant to the AACF?

Students may know what students want, but we don’t all want the same things, and we don’t always know which wants are realistic. As a filter for student voice, how would the UC select which ideas and demands to advocate for--would you choose based on numbers (like polling or something) or pick the suggestions you think would work? Which voices within the student body do you think are currently underrepresented, and what would you do to fix that (apart from supporting a Women's Center)?

At 11:09 PM, Blogger Ben said...

John, thanks for posting. I'm wondering if you could elaborate on what you mean by the "'business as usual' attitude of the UC." What does that mean, and who do you think is responsible for it? Are certain committees more prone to this attitude than others?

Much of the UC's work occurs in committee, and as you are fond of pointing out, your ticket consists of two committee chairs and has the support of the third. What steps have you taken over the past semester to correct "business as usual"? It seems a tad far-fetched to be railing against the attitude of an organization that you already have substantial control over.

And if the organizational tone can only be set by the President and VP, what specific actions of Matt & Clay would you consider "business as usual" and how would your approach differ in these situations?

Finally, I'd like to say that from the 24-hour library to keeping student groups afloat (the heart of Harvard social life), SAC and FiCom have done a consistently stellar job these past few semesters. If that's business as usual, then I'm all for it.

I look forward to your response.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Daniel Koh, Campaign Manager, Voith/Gadgil said...

Thanks for the question. I can completely understand where the skepticism of the Voith/Gadgil student-input ideas are coming from…people on this campus are often far too busy, and simply haven’t had the time to attend these meetings in the past. However, I believe John and Tara can combat this issue effectively in distinct ways.

With regard to attendance at events, I believe that many students feel such a disconnect from the UC that they don’t want to take some of their time to come to town hall meetings. This is why John and Tara are so emphatic about bringing student voice back into the UC. If students feel like what they say in a meeting will really make a difference (as it did in aiding in the creation of the pep rally), they will be more inclined to attend such meetings. Publicity is also an important element in this issue. Personally, at my time at Harvard, I have never heard of town hall meetings before. John believes it is the responsibility of the UC to do a better job of publicizing such events, with flyers around campus and with free food such as Felipe’s at the events. Such a great example of this combination was shown with the Lamont 24/5 celebration, which far exceeded expectations and brought a massive amount of students together on a schoolnight in which many people are at their busiest.

Another form of making the student voice heard can be done through e-mail. It is understandable that people may not be able to make a town hall meeting, but that shouldn’t allow their voices to go silent. Hence, John believes that it would be the responsibility of UC Representatives to keep tabs on their house concerns, by stating in e-mail over the houses on a weekly basis that they are available to talk through e-mail (or in person). This is supposed to be done by “UC Notes,” but it is often not kept up with and students don’t often feel like that they are encouraged to respond. John would enforce this system (even postering around dorms of this e-mail input would raise awareness) and make the Reps report to him that they indeed sent out those e-mails, and also notify him as to how many responses he or she received. Doing so will not only ensure that this system is being executed but also allow us to see if the Voith/Gadgil plan to involve student voice is being effective. With the busy lives of students, we need to facilitate allowing the UC to hear student voice. John and Tara are tremendously excited to bring back the voices of the students through these means.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Daniel Koh, Campaign Manager, Voith/Gadgil said...

Thank you for your question. It is very clear to John and Tara that holding a town hall meeting for every bill proposed in the UC would be inefficient. However, it would not prevent them from enacting the strategy of increased e-mail input. As I answered in the previous question, John will make it the responsibility of the UC Representatives to e-mail their houses on a weekly basis, notifying them of the bills along with a brief description. It will be the duty of the UC Representatives to send out these e-mails and ask for feedback. In this way, the UC will convene with the impressions of the student body in mind. John will also make sure that this system is effective by having each UC Representative notify him of the amount of responses received. The serious enforcement of an improved “UC Notes” system will allow students to feel in touch.

This is also a way for Voith and Gadgil to identify and be receptive to the underrepresented voices on campus. Advocacy is facilitated by an efficient e-mail system in which UC Representatives are available to discuss issues with their fellow house members. Allowing for a clear, open channel between students and their fellow representatives enables BEFORE voting on issues will help address the needs and wants of underrepresented groups and peoples on campus.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Daniel Koh, Campaign Manager, Voith/Gadgil said...

Thank you for your question. First of all, I agree that SAC and FiCom have done a stellar job in the past few semesters. Tara’s leadership this year, in particular, have continued this excellence, as has FiCom Chair Jane Fang, who also supports John and Tara. Their combined leadership is why I was so excited to join their campaign in the first place.

I believe the “business as usual” attitude of the UC does is not a fault of Matt and Clay. John and Tara believe have done a stellar job this year. What seems to be the attitude of those outside of the UC (a group to which I personally belong), is that students don’t know enough about the pressing issues in the UC every Sunday and instead are often left in the dark. Often, students outside of the UC are left to read about what DID happen in the Crimson on Monday morning, rather than what is GOING to happen. This results in an innate disconnect that is perceived by the students as a “business as usual” attitude. Initiatives like the Pep Rally – the first major event under the CLC leadership of John Voith – is a sign of what’s to come: an extremely successful event for the students that was not only based on student input but involved bringing thousands of students together in a common cause (and gave long-deserved praise and attention to the athletes of Harvard College, a group that is often disrespected and stereotyped). I very much doubt that an administration without student advocacy could have put on such an event that catered similarly well to students…John’s contacts in across the river facilitated the experience for all, and the free Felipe’s and great music were two telling signs of how student input in campus wide events are crucial and must be lead by students…can you imagine a pep rally put on by the administration only?

In addition, Tara’s work on creating a task force on extended dining hall hours and the initial discussion of bringing Cable TV through computers is an example of how being receptive to the students can lead to tangible results that leave the campus with a positive impression of the UC and helps to bring about better relationships with not only students but the administration as well. This domino effect has a dramatic effect on student morale and leads to a more trusting relationship between the UC, students, and administration alike.

John and Tara’s end to the “business as usual” attitude has already begun. Specifically, John, given the opportunity to lead the CLC rather than serve under a leader, has done away with events that have in the past been very unsuccessful and obviously lacking student input (Havana on the Harbor) and has lead the charge in creating wildly successful events that have brought together the students and raised the campus morale (Pep Rally). Their vision for the upcoming year is feasible, exciting, and will dramatically change the relationship between students, UC, and administration forever.


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