The results of the Yale College Council runoff are in, and most of Yale is still probably feeling slightly let down. For a runoff, the stakes felt surprisingly low. The two candidates were separated by only two votes in the first stage of elections, and it was clear to anyone reading the News’ endorsements of this or nearly any other YCC race in recent memory, that the paper was struggling to find a way to distinguish between the candidates.
It wasn’t that the candidates lacked ideas. Spurred on by the upcoming review of the 2003 Committee on Yale College Education recommendations, all candidates put forward a number of ambitious proposals concerning academic policy. But it seemed all the aspiring presidents were boosting a fairly similar set of objectives. This convergence appears to be the final validation of the oft-cited median voter theorem, which posits that politicians who wish to gain the maximum number of votes will adopt the policy preferences of the median voter, leaving both candidates with identical positions. It also appears to give undergraduates a troubling lack of options.
This concern, however, is largely irrelevant to the actual functioning of the YCC. Ultimately, the scope of the YCC’s power is extremely limited. For all the reports published or meetings with administrators, the YCC has no direct power to reform Credit/D/Fail or overhaul mental health services.
It is unreasonable then to expect the newly elected YCC officers to achieve change on their own.
Instead, the YCC is the face of the student body to the administration. Or, to put it a bit crassly, the YCC is equivalent to Congress with respect to the lobbyists of student advocacy groups like the Undergraduate Organizing Committee or the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative. The YCC relies on these advocacy groups to do the legwork on proposals for reform. They can then throw the resources and perceived legitimacy of the YCC behind these proposals. The Facebook group “Petition to extend the meal swipe hours at Uncommon and Durfee’s to 2:30 p.m.” existed long before Courtney Pannell ’11 added the issue to her platform.
The YCC is at its best when it is taking direction from student groups. The push for gender-neutral housing is a perfect example of the role YCC should play in campus policy. Gender-neutral housing was not a YCC initiative. It was taken up as an issue after years of work by the LGBT Co-op and other student advocacy groups on campus. Both before and during the period of the YCC’s support for the proposal, the co-op coordinated campus activism, researched similar programs at other schools and helped elicit public shows of support from a wide range of students across campus. The YCC then joined the co-op to argue before the Council of Masters that there was broad and enthusiastic support for the proposal. The proposal passed.
It is valuable to have a single body conduct negotiations with the administration. Elected in school-wide elections, YCC representatives can plausibly represent the desires of the entire student body, in contrast to advocacy groups that are often dismissed, rightly or wrongly, as serving only a specific subset of Yale’s population. Additionally, if advocacy groups handled all negotiations with Yale’s leadership, there would be considerable pressure to take a moderate stance and soft-pedal more progressive reforms to avoid alienating Yale’s administrators. With the YCC serving as the official representatives of student opinion, student advocacy groups can go beyond the immediately politically feasible and lay the groundwork for more comprehensive reform.
Voting for YCC elections (and again in runoffs, if necessary) is the least we can do. The YCC depends on visible student support for its advocacy to be taken as legitimate. The furor over cutting Yale’s subscription to The New York Times showed exactly how much authority the YCC has when it is out of step with the desires of the students. Next year, it is critical that students keep careful watch over the YCC’s recommendations, to avoid another New York Times in dining halls controversy, to lend their support to the reasonable proposals for policy reform already on the table and to put new ideas on the Council’s agenda.
The YCC elections have come to a close, and, as is the case in any democracy, our job has just begun.