College Council needs more than a judiciary

In one of the year’s more exciting developments, it appears that College Council (CC) will vote in the coming weeks to present the recommendations of the Amendment Supervisory Committee (ASC) to the student body. The ASC has, according to the latest CC minutes, been working “slowly but surely” to revamp the CC constitution. One of the amendments that it took the ASC an entire semester to come up with would establish a judiciary branch of CC. This branch would be responsible, upon an appeal by an aggrieved party, for reviewing the constitutionality of any controversial actions taken by CC.

Judging from this year’s accomplishments, CC needs a judiciary branch about as much as a fish needs a bicycle. To date, we have seen remarkably little action out of CC, and, as a result, while we support the idea of a CC judiciary, it’s fairly irrelevant at this point. CC’s guiding principle this year seems to be encapsulated by the title given to its Oct. 18 minutes: “never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.” At last week’s meeting, CC voted to recognize the Williams Bone Marrow Registry Organization (WBMRO). Somehow this, CC’s only accomplishment at the Jan. 16 meeting, doesn’t seem to live up to the decisive action we were promised during last spring’s elections. On the other hand, perhaps we should be relieved that CC voted for anything last week as, at the start of the meeting, they didn’t even have enough representatives present to hold a vote. Quoting the CC minutes: “We started this meeting without an established quorum due to several absences and late-comers. [L]uckily, a few people sauntered in later, in time for our one vote of the evening.”

CC’s oversight problems were highlighted by last year’s Mad Cow fiasco, and these should not be ignored. However, there are other, more pressing concerns. Observing by-laws is undoubtedly important, but function is of little consequence if nothing is being undertaken, or if CC members themselves do not make an effort to understand the by-laws. Jonathan Pahl ’03, CC’s treasurer and one of the few members of CC who is familiar with the by-laws, stated in the Dec. 4 issue of the Record that “CC members ask me what sections of the by-laws mean. But it’s not my job to interpret [the by-laws].” Pahl is right – it isn’t his responsibility; it is the responsibility of individual members of CC to learn the by-laws when they are elected. We fail to understand how CC can take itself seriously when its members have no idea about the rules and regulations that must guide their actions. That CC didn’t vote at the last meeting on which amendments to present to the student body is due largely (as admitted by a CC member) to the fact that few members had actually read the amendments scheduled to be debated.

The question now is not how CC has utilized its power during the first semester, but rather whether it can salvage its reputation and restore student confidence in its advocacy abilities. This requires not only a leap of faith from students, but also a concerted effort by all CC members – not just a few of the officers – to restore respectability to their positions. If not for CC reps’ poor attendance, weak adherence to by-laws and utter lack of meaningful action, CC could be a vibrant and committed representative body.

It is our opinion that student government can and should be an important part of campus life, as well as a trusted voice for institutional improvements. To do so, it must actively solicit student opinion and take clear and significant action to support these sentiments.

Yet CC’s other amendment, detailing at-large representation, will only serve to further frustrate attempts to discern student attitudes. The proposed amendment, which would reduce the number of campus at-large representatives from four to two, merely reduces the accountability of CC to the student body. Unfortunately CC, and at-large reps in particular, are not being held accountable under the current system either. The answer, however, is not eliminating two positions. Instead, CC should clearly define what the role of an at-large rep is. At-large reps should be held directly accountable for making sure that CC is advocating on behalf of the student body.

Imagine if CC had four representatives who were responsible for actively looking for things for CC to do. This would go beyond merely repeating to CC what their friends have been complaining about or bringing forward opinions expressed by those students who actually managed to find CC’s office hours or meeting location. Campus at-large representatives would instead be held accountable for making sure that CC knows about and acts upon issues that concern the campus.

Which leads us to the big buzzword of last spring’s elections: advocacy. The necessity of a powerful student advocacy voice need not be defended. An individual student or group of students has far less chance of getting something changed than an organized, recognized, trusted voice of the student body. Yet, we see very little actual advocacy coming from CC. A CC representative was at the Williamstown Board of Selectmen meeting in December, but at last week’s meeting (when the Selectmen considered possible sanctions of Canterbury’s) there was no CC voice present to tell the Selectmen how Williams students feel about Canterbury’s and what action students think would be appropriate for them to take.

At this point, it is clear that CC is not acting as anything more than a funding body – much as members might deny or dislike it. Its members seem all too passive in finding out what issues are bothering students, a significant number of them don’t bother showing up to meetings and those who do show up are often unprepared to act on the items on their agenda. The student body deserves, and should expect, better. At this point, discussing a CC judiciary panel is a moot point. The campus discussion should focus first on forming a valid governing body, and only then should discussion shift to the addition of branches like the judiciary panel.