When discussing the reasons why I take pride in being the ranking representative on the Yale College Council, I often hear my friends say that the YCC is “out of touch” with the student body. While each college twice annually elects representatives to staggered terms, the candidates often have little name recognition, many elections go uncontested, and most of the elections are soon forgotten.
The spring officer elections cause more of a stir on campus than representative elections due in large part to the massive quantities of fliers that candidates hang on bulletin boards and the flurry of e-mails that the candidates and their allies send out in the moments before voting ends. But for the rest of the year, undergraduates generally go about their business undisturbed, more interested in the details of the a cappella rush process than in whether the council is living up to its mission.
In my fourth year on the council, apathy about the inner workings of the YCC among students at large has ceased to surprise me but continues to disappoint me. My greatest concern, however, is the flippant attitude of certain members of the YCC toward rules established specifically to prevent the abuse of power by those in charge.
At a recent meeting of the council, I proposed that the president appoint an inspector general who would be responsible for investigating possible transgressions by officers and representatives. I also proposed revising the YCC constitution to clarify the succession process in the case of an executive board vacancy.
For my efforts to reform the YCC, I was rewarded with harsh words and frigid stares. “We don’t need to investigate ourselves,” my colleagues screamed. “That is the YDN’s job.” In vain I tried to explain that history has repeatedly demonstrated that governments — even pseudo-governments such as the Yale College Council — must take responsibility for their own actions.
Through transparency and introspection, we can nip scandal in the bud and avoid public outcry. Time and again we have seen that abdicating all ethical responsibility to the press causes more lasting damage to an institution’s reputation than submitting to an internal audit up-front.
For example, pandemonium ensued just over a year ago after a couple of enterprising Wesleyan students sued former YCC President Elliott Mogul ’05 and YaleStation founder Alexander Clark ’04 for allegedly plagiarizing WesMatch, Wesleyan’s online dating site. Nasty letters appeared in campus publications, the Yale Daily News wrote an editorial calling for reform, and several council members demanded an apology. Because Mogul consciously kept the council in the dark, the resulting publicity was much worse than it might have been if he had reached out earlier to the rest of the YCC. The council can learn much from this example of secrecy and abuse of power.
If recent events are any indication, however, current members of the council have failed to learn the lessons of WesMatch. In particular, we now have a president who failed to register for his own race by the strict deadline set forth in guidelines written by last year’s vice president and unanimously approved by the council (which must approve all election rule changes).
Former YCC President Andrew Cedar, who served as treasurer during Mogul’s tenure, refused to remove him from the ballot. We have a vice president who has yet to publicly review the YCC’s checkered election history or delegate that responsibility. We have a treasurer who has thrown precedent to the wind by neglecting to publicize any reports on the organization’s finances or even discuss estimates with the council.
We also have an Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee chair who ran uncontested last spring and has had to extend application deadlines in order to find enough students to serve on the UOFC. Finally, we have a YaleStation chair who was unilaterally selected by the president in spite of clear rules mandating that the full council approve the chosen candidate.
It is apparent that the new officers have no appetite for introspection. It is equally apparent that many representatives have not yet found the courage to challenge the executive board to conduct business with high ethical standards. That said, it is not too late for the Yale College Council to chart a more responsible, more ethical and more honorable course this year.
Now is the time for YCC leaders to take the necessary steps to ensure that all members adhere to the noble purposes for which the council was founded three decades ago. This could be accomplished in various ways. For instance, the president could appoint an inspector general who would be responsible for investigating internal issues. The vice president, likewise, could set up an accountability board to examine ethical questions. I still have faith in the potential for student government and believe that someday soon, the true leaders of the YCC will cling once more to the spirit of democracy and demand reform.
Alan Kennedy-Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College and a member of the Yale College Council.