College Council needs reform

By Ryan Kaminski

With a year and a half of student government experience at the University of Chicago and in my current role as the Class of 2009’s elected representative to College Council, I find several actions of this year’s council to be cause for concern. They are taking steps harmful not only to fellow council members, but also and more importantly to our constituents. Recalling Albert Einstein’s words, “When speaking the truth, leave elegance to the tailor” I plainly admit that College Council no longer appears interested in representing the will of the students at the University of Chicago. This calls its fundamental legitimacy as an institution into question.

There were warning signs early this year when a minority of the council supported the creation of a private listhost for its members after the Maroon published an editorial bashing Student Government (SG) plans for a security database. While the measure was fortunately defeated, College Council still moved closer to being an essentially non-representative body in violation of the preamble of its own constitution: “To further the interests and promote the welfare of the students at the University of Chicago.” This was followed by an incident in which Representative Kyle Lee sent allegedly discriminatory e-mails and attempted to intimidate another council member (full disclosure: That council member was me). Despite this, College Council failed to vote resoundingly for impeachment even though a Facebook group with hundreds of members, rare visitations from several RSOs and students to College Council meetings, and other disciplinary action from the Student Government Executive Slate suggested this was the only proper course of action.

Now, once again, with the issue of divestment from Sudan, the Council has failed to even commit itself to an up-or-down vote regarding a resolution asking the University administration to reconsider its decision in time to support a key student protest. According to Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), 1,500 students (more than the total number of students who voted in the last student government election) and 110 faculty members support the amendment. College Council, though, mulled merely voting to support a resolution to debate the issue for two days, ultimately leaving action for a later time and missing the protest completely. Even worse, only one member of the council’s solepolitical party—the “Penny Party,” which in its campaign platform explicitly supported divestment—signaled support for the resolution and actively contributed to its production.

Besides these specific incidents of apparent negligence, meetings have quite embarrassingly included literally hours of bickering over hyper-technical parliamentary procedure, near-constant party-line voting, and even discussions by some members on how to “spin” campus reforms as products of Student Government and College Council.

While there admittedly has been some positive activity by the College Council this year, including an SG Cultural Show; the sponsorship of an Illinois Board of Higher Education Student Advisory Committee session, a food drive, and the “New Initiatives Program”; and a decision to be more involved with community service, these actions may be understood more appropriately as damage control as a result of the council’s inability to serve the wishes of the student body and thus fulfill its obligations. More simply, while College Council has worked on these events, it has failed to deliver on the clearest desires and most explicit demands of the students of the University it was elected to serve. By repeatedly disregarding the opinions of the university’s undergraduate population, College Council has moved dangerously close to validating virtually every common conception of student government being generally ineffective, undemocratic, nothing but a “résumé-builder” for its members, and ultimately an exercise in futility. I would urge you to contact your representative to address this matter. Unfortunately, it seems this year that most representatives likely would not care.