The hidden College Council

High above the Williams College campus, well away from the nighttime foot traffic of the student body, the Secret Society convened its meeting. The presidents of the clandestine organization were preparing their agenda – namely, a slew of new ways to keep the society secret – when into Griffin 6 walked your unassuming correspondent. Yes, I was asked to substitute on the Williams College Council (CC) and yes – just for the chance to see up close the workings of the inner sanctum – I went.

Having served a couple of terms on the venerable body – back in the halcyon days when it actually met in Baxter Lounge, in public – I knew a number of faces in the room. And I am not here to excoriate the rank-and-file members of the fraternity we call our representative body; they’re mostly nice and interesting folks (really, they are). No, my intent is to give you the inside scoop on the Council’s top brass and to show how, while their constituents are plunged into “blindness” by the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL; more on this later), these smooth operators get their kicks.

First off, you should know that the CC is currently setting records for something which looks like pettiness (but which is actually the shrewdest of political maneuvering, as you will see). A body which is supposed to be fighting for your interests is instead fighting – incessantly bickering, for hours – over such pressing issues as whether the new Judiciary amendment should call for 3 justices with one alternate, or 4 justices with no alternates or 5 justices or. . ..

Somewhere along the line, the CC went and passed a generally embarrassing ream of constitutional “amendments.” You might have heard of them, if you read the Council minutes. Then again, you might not have. What’s placed on your dining room table is no transcript – it’s nothing more than the biased, filtered report the Council’s inner circle wants you to read. But, by essence of being in ink, the minutes become the record, the institutional memory, the Bible truth (Cue Charlton Heston!). And it’s hard to argue with what you can’t hear or don’t know – the stuff that’s left by the script writers of CC Productions on the cutting room floor. (So, ha ha! The minutes are the truth. Moses has spoken!)

Now let’s just examine a couple of those “amendments.” The audacity of the amendments – shoved through by the usual suspects, some CC officers angling to increase their “power” and others conniving to get it themselves come March elections – is flat-out shocking. Take the little “judiciary” thing. The judiciary, they say, is an advisory board – a panel, you know, to help with the finer points of lofty CC constitutional debate. But do you know who these “constitutional scholars” are going to be? Well, here’s a hint: members of the judiciary will serve for the entirety of their Williams careers (just like the real life Supreme Court! we’re really in politics now! yippee guys!) and shall be “selected through the appointments process,” according to the wonderfully tight language of the actual amendment. Yeah, you got it: this is just the latest and greatest scheme to dole out favors, and titles, to the CC leadership’s best buds. (Though maybe, if you ask real nice, they’ll let you be the bailiff).

Here’s another thing you should know, and this leads me to the second precious amendment that the Secret Society has most generously proposed: while the rank-and-file of the Council are voting on (rubber-stamping) the co-presidential choices for the “judiciary,” the entire proceeding can be conducted in secret! I don’t just mean Griffin Hall/Dr. Evil’s Secret Lair secret. I mean really, really, honest-to-God secret. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there exists a new in camera amendment which allows the CC – by a 3/4 vote – to meet in absolute, locked-down secret session. There, all the grownup stuff can get done and your fragile little minds need never be burdened by it. Delicious! I don’t know what in camera actually translates to, being what the CC elites would call a “normal Williams student,” but I know what, should this amendment see the light of day, it would really mean. It would mean that the Council leadership has achieved its final ends: not only would they have reduced the CC to an absolute joke, but the Council would then be a flat-out private joke. By a 3/4 vote, tucked away and in camera (don’t get dirty now) the Council could giggle at us behind our backs. This is unacceptable.

And now, it is your duty to tell the CC and its leadership what you think. The student body cannot afford the Council being a joke; believe it or not, there is too much of too great an importance for your representatives to be kicking back, popping the bubbly and stuffing their resumes in camera.

Exhibit 1: The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) has proposed to a) reduce room draw groups from 7 to 4, b) gender cap houses at 60% per sex and c) establish a blind room-draw whereby one cannot know who her neighbor will be (on the other side of a paper-thin wall). Word of their proposals has been circulating among the campus government glitterati for months. But the CC – our advocacy, remember? – has been “withholding comment” until the CUL made its “formal proposal.” Guess what? That’s like waiting until you’re shot in the head before begging for your life. By the time the CC met on Feb. 6 and finally brought up the proposal – finally “commented” – it was way too little, way too late. Housing booklets for April room draw were already being drafted. . . with the CUL changes included.

If your blood is not yet boiling, check this: in the meeting, one of the co-presidents stated – and I quote verbatim from the minutes/script – that a “critical assailment of the proposal, however, would inevitably be unproductive, so [she] implored CC to try to avoid that as much as possible.” Are you kidding? We’re just to humbly accept our fates before the almighty power of the CUL? This is an outrage, and conclusive proof of my thesis. The CC “leaders” are not leaders at all. No, they’re lemmings taking orders from above. And they’re shoving us off the cliff. How’s that for a critical assailment?

I don’t have enough room in this article to fully engage in the CUL debate; my purpose here is to bring up the fact that there was no debate among those elected to promote your interests. The CUL proposals – principally driven by an administrative desire to make the New York Times – were happily ushered in by the CC as a done deal. Have one meeting, throw some way-belated “opinion tables” in the snack bar – you know, for the kiddies to blow off some steam – and, the CC brass figured, that’s that.

So why the inaction, why the impotence? It’s not just laziness, folks. They’re getting along to get ahead. The CC leadership knew about the CUL proposals long ago, just as they know of other actions or inactions within the College that could negatively affect your life. But the same CC elite is more than content to walk passively, hand-in-hand, with most anything coming from the administration or anywhere else with power; they’re riding this boat (all the way to Harvard Law) and they sure don’t want to rock it. The verdict, dear reader, is unequivocal: the only butts they won
’t stoop to kiss are ours. You say the College Council is a joke. Well, you’re right. It’s a joke on you. And it will be pending the day its Secret Society career leadership is sent packing. Until then, well, what’s a few laughs among friends?