College Council (CC) overturned its most controversial decision in recent memory last week as it restored recognition to the Mad Cow, a campus humor magazine. At the same meeting, CC approved the allocation of over $220,000 in funding for student organizations and recognized five new campus groups.
The Mad Cow was stripped of its recognition last spring amid widespread outrage over an article satirizing initiatives to increase the presence of minority students in student governance. The article, entitled “College Council Adds ‘Black Guy’ Position,” described a CC in which the “black guy” was granted three-fifths of a vote. Elsewhere in that issue, the Mad Cow featured “Departmental Pick-Up Lines” that included a reference to slavery under the African-American Studies department heading.
The Mad Cow’s articles touched off a fervent campus-wide debate on racism, interracial relations, free speech and censorship. In remarks to CC unrelated to the Council’s discussion re-recognition of the Mad Cow, Nancy Roseman, dean of the College, expressed disappointment that the Mad Cow dispute did not lead to a productive conversation about race relations on campus.
“What seems really tragic to me is that the conversation on race got lost when it expanded to free speech,” Roseman said. “It was a discussion that we really needed to have.”
During open time at the end of the CC’s meeting, Mike Pinkel ’03, a Mad Cow writer, stepped forward to ask the Council to reinstate the magazine’s recognition. Pinkel argued that the value of open discourse on campus outweighs the risk that people will occasionally say “genuinely offensive” things.
“We must support all discourse, even that which we disagree with, even that which we believe to be wrong,” Pinkel said. “The College has recognized this imperative. After all, the Gaudino Forum exists to provide just this kind of ‘uncomfortable learning.’”
Pinkel continued, “In order for vigorous discourse to exist, speech needs breathing space. Groups must know that, whatever they say, their funding will not be taken away, no matter what. Otherwise, we create a climate of fear around speech that causes people to censor themselves.”
Pinkel’s speech drew criticism from several CC members. “[Free speech] is a very great power and that is why we fight and struggle to keep it free,” said Shayru Qureshi ’04, the Dodd quad representative. “But with great power comes great responsibility. Free speech does not mean that we can just go down the street abusing who we want in whatever terms we deem fit because we have ‘the right’ to free speech.”
“I do not think that free speech is at all the issue here, and not even more specifically racial tensions,” Qureshi continued. “It is a matter of racial sensitivities. No matter how ‘free’ the society might be, you need to respect and understand the people in your community and those around you.”
Although some CC members indicated that they did not feel prepared to vote on the issue, the council voted 17-6-1 to overturn its de-recognition of the Mad Cow.
According to Joe Masters ’02, a co-president of CC, the council is dedicated to developing a protocol to deal with similar situations involving CC-funded organizations in the future. In an e-mail to the CC last week, Masters outlined a potential set of bylaw changes that he worked out in cooperation with other CC members.
First, Masters recommended that in the future the CC should not be able to take away a group’s recognition.
“If a group of students, through the framework and in the name of a CC group, does something so egregious that we would consider using de-recognition, there would certainly be Honor and Discipline consequences for those students, and we should use that route, because a de-recognition of the group punishes future members of the group,” Masters wrote.
Masters recommended that the CC enact a system by which students can petition CC to censure one of its constituent organizations. Official censure from CC would then have a bearing on that group’s funding allocation. Additionally, students could petition CC to scrutinize a group’s budget for one year, giving the council “complete control over resource allocation.”
During CC’s regular business at Tuesday’s meeting, the Council approved the funding allotments of all of its subgroups, which include activism, arts, athletics and tournaments, music, publications, spiritualism and campus services. Each subgroup is allotted a share of CC’s subgroup budget by the Finance Committee (FinCom).
Representatives of the student organizations within each subgroup then meet to divide the subgroup budget among themselves. Finally, the budgets of all subgroups must be approved by the entire CC. The governing body may approve the entire slate or have any of the subgroups meet again to redistribute the funds.
Jonathan Pahl ’03, CC treasurer, said that most of last Sunday’s subgroup meetings went smoothly, although a few subgroups deliberated for several hours. Pahl noted that the representatives of several student organizations did not show for the subgroup meetings, and that their failure to attend generally resulted in a decrease in the group’s funding allotment compared to last year.
The only subgroup budget to come under discussion was that of the activism subgroup. Federico Sosa Otero ’04, class of 2004 representative, spoke out on behalf of Greensense, the student environmental club. According to Otero, the treasurer of Greensense forgot to attend the subgroup meeting, and as a result the organization suffered a large funding cut that would hamper its activities for the coming year.
“We shouldn’t punish the funding needs of a group for the mishaps of their treasurer, an individual,” Otero said.
Pahl said that the subgroup’s justification for reducing Greensense’s allotment was the fact that the group received financial support from several academic departments last year.
Otero nonetheless moved to remove the activism subgroup from the slate, but his motion failed by a vote of 8-15-3. Shortly thereafter, CC voted to accept the entire budget by a nearly unanimous vote of 25-0-1.
Another item on the CC’s agenda was the appointment of up to four CC members to the General Fund Allocation Committee (GFAC).
A bylaw passed last spring created the GFAC, which is responsible for screening requests of student organizations for money from the CC’s general fund. The GFAC was created in order to prevent the lengthy debates over general fund requests that have historically bogged down CC meetings. According to the bylaw, the GFAC consists of FinCom and at least one, but not more than four, representatives from CC.
Five CC members nominated themselves for membership on the new committee: Scott Grisnell ’04, Otero, Michael Henry ’04, Hall O’Donnell ’03 and Charlie Davidson ’04. CC co-presidents Sarah Barger ’02 and Masters dismissed the five nominees from the room in order to conduct a vote.
In the lengthy discussion that followed, several CC members said that they did not feel prepared to take a vote because they did not know the candidates well enough to choose between them. A few CC representatives suggested various solutions ranging from on-the-spot speeches to a random drawing, but none gathered any momentum.
In the end, Craig Tamamoto ’02, CC secretary, proposed that the council delay the vote by one week in order to allow the candidates to compose self-nonimations and to appoint a CC member other than the candidates to serve on the GFAC until then.
Tamamoto’s proposal drew a vote of 11-11-0, invoking a rarely-used CC rule that passes the decision to the co-presidents in the event of a tie vote. The approval of both co-presidents is required to pass a motion in such cases, and Masters and Barger both gave their assent to Tamamoto’s proposal. Tamamoto was chosen to be the interim representative of the CC on the GFAC.
The lengthy and awkward process of choosing GFAC members drew criticism from some CC representatives. “The selection process was absurdly disorganized,” said Mayo Shattuck ’03, Gladden House representative. “CC was stymied by its inability to adapt to restrictive parliamentary procedure.”
Shattuck continued, “Joe [Masters] and Sarah [Barger] should never have opened up the floor for motions,” Shattuck continued. “The voting process we are going through [this week] should have been established before the meeting on Tuesday.”
Tom Cubeta, Carter House rep, said, “CC leadership needs to take a more decisive role and give guidance to the younger members of Council.”
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting the CC recognized five new student organizations: Democrats @ Williams, Dancesport, The Feast, the Irish Society and the Guinness Club.
According to its mission statement, Democrats @ Williams is “dedicated to promoting Democratic values, Democratic candidates and involvement with the Democratic party.” Keith Ericson ’04, one of the group’s organizers, said that the group would also coordinate events to increase political literacy and participation of all Williams students, including a voter registration drive and a debate with representatives of both major parties. Democrats @ Williams will work in conjunction with the College Democrats of Massachusetts (CDM), a statewide organization.
The Williams College Dancesport Club was established to provide “professional instruction in Ballroom and Latin-American dancing.” One of the club’s long-term goals is to send Williams students to intercollegiate dancesport competitions.
The Feast is the College’s newest spiritual organization. “We are an inclusive community of people from many traditions and backgrounds who are drawn together by a spirit of radical hospitality and a desire to explore the Christian story and our own spiritual journeys,” the group’s mission statement read. Alex Gordon ’04, who represented the group at the CC meeting, called The Feast “an all-encompassing spiritual group.”
The College’s once-defunct Irish Society was re-recognized last Tuesday. According to Emmett Tracy ’02, the society was started in 1999, but failed to gain re-recognition last year due to inactivity. Tracy said that the society would organize two all-campus parties per year, including a St. Patrick’s day party, and sponsor speakers and movie showings relating to Irish culture.
The only group to be recognized by a unanimous vote (27-0-0) on Tuesday was the Guinness Club. According to Craig Wadman ’03, the group’s organizer, the Guinness Club’s objective is to organize one campus-wide event per year that will get the College into the Guinness Book of World Records.
By way of example, Wadman pointed out that the Williams student body, if persuaded to gather en masse with toothbrushes in hand, could set a new world record for the largest number of people brushing their teeth together at one time.