Candidates must produce overarching vision

As we enter the two-week period preceding this year’s College Council (CC) general elections, the student body must consider how it feels CC should function to most effectively impact life at the College and whether or not CC – both in the past and present – has fulfilled expectations.

The heart of the issue lies in determining whether CC should operate with a philosophy of tackling small, concrete issues, large, more abstract issues or a combination of the two. On one hand, making small improvements in student life such as improving pedestrian safety and providing current updates on construction in Greylock to quad residents are important accomplishments. Also, students often forget that CC is charged with managing and distributing the Student Activities Tax, which has far-reaching implications for programming and extracurricular options at the College. In addition to funding a diverse group of activities, this year’s CC administration has been successful in pursuing a focused, project-based agenda that has yielded positive results like the installation of rumble strips around campus and improved communication between the student body and town officials.

On the other hand, perhaps by choice, CC’s leadership has been absent from the discussion and resolution of the larger issues currently facing the College. It has furthermore lacked foresight and initiative in rooting out issues for discussion. It must be noted that this deficiency is not unique to the current CC administration. Rather, it is a phenomenon that has plagued Council for the past three years and may very well reflect general student apathy toward issues with long-term ramifications for the College community. But this lack of student advocacy in the College’s planning process must end now, while there is still some time for meaningful input.

In his induction address in October 2000, President Schapiro set the College on a course to become the preeminent undergraduate institution in America. “Let history one day note that our community had the courage to seize the moment,” he proclaimed. Just as Schapiro grasped the potential of his leadership position, so CC’s leadership must articulate a vision as well. In addition to ensuring that students understand the issues and parlaying student sentiments regarding the various projects into real influence in the planning process, CC must also ensure the momentum for change is not lost to inertia and inefficiency.

Plans are still being finalized for Baxter Hall, and the Stetson/Sawyer project is looming on the horizon. Beyond mobilizing student input, if CC can find the vision and organization it has been missing for the past three years, its popular mandate gives it great potential to wield significant power in the planning process. Despite only being on campus for four years, students have an obligation as members of the community to participate in the strategic planning process and devise plans that are in the best interest of the institution in the long run.

Along with many members of the College community, we are frustrated with the direction of several major projects currently underway. Construction has begun next to the Greylock Quad on the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, which will enormously inconvenience Greylock residents for the next three years as well as disrupt the flow of student traffic as envisioned in the master plan presented by Venturi Scott Brown last year. Furthermore, the Polshek Partnership’s plans for the new Baxter Hall call for an imposing modern design which will contrast jarringly with the surrounding buildings as well as dwarf Chapin Hall, which currently acts as a beautiful anchor for the quad formed around Baxter Lawn. We do not question the need for or intentions behind either project; rather, we feel that organized and powerful student involvement in the initial stages could have resulted in architectural and logistical plans more amenable to members of the College community.

In addition, two years ago, the College embarked on an ambitious effort to review and reform the College’s curriculum and system of residential life. Now, it seems, that interest within the administration has waned, and CC has not had the vision or ability to present a powerfully organized front to ask what real results have been achieved in revising the housing system and the curriculum.

History has shown that CC has the ability to act decisively and wield significant power. At this critical juncture, as we stand ready to finalize plans for Baxter, Stetson Hall and other components of the strategic planning initiative, CC sorely needs leaders that exhibit vision and flexibility. The current CC administration’s efforts to address more focused projects are commendable, but the major decisions currently facing the College necessitate a broader view and more effective application of CC’s popular mandate.

The new CC leadership must recognize the importance and logic of requiring junior Council members to pursue a project-based philosophy while senior members reestablish a strong relationship with the administration to facilitate real student involvement in the strategic planning process. It is only with a CC leadership capable of motivating students, conducting legitimate dialogue with members of the administration and taking the initiative on both abstract and concrete issues that we will achieve the great potential posed by the strategic planning process.