This has been a banner year for the Yale College Council — visible, accessible and, if not always able to get its way, consistently searching for a seat at the table when important decisions are being made.
We believe Joe English ’17 is the candidate best-equipped to carry on the YCC’s work. He shows the most promise in legitimating student government in the eyes of its constituents, which remains the central task going forward. Only then will students and student groups, from the cultural houses to athletic teams, trust the YCC to take up their cause. This trust is the bedrock of successful student government.
Specific priorities will vary depending on the needs of the campus; their implementation will be the responsibility of the YCC at large. But it’s the president who sets the tone for the relationship the YCC maintains with the broader community. English, who is currently YCC chief of staff, will be the most effective spokesperson before the administration. Further, he will work hardest to make sure students are being heard. His experience, competence and enthusiasm for what the YCC can mean for students make us confident in his leadership.
Still, something about the structure of the YCC and its elections makes it difficult for presidential candidates to appear entirely appealing. This year is no exception. Rather than thinking critically about campus issues, the three candidates running for president seem to have taken every hot-button topic of conversation or subject of student protest and shoved them into a set of promises that are little more than a pledge to fix everything that’s making students angry. It’s as if they don’t realize they’ll ever have to say “no” once they’re elected.
The clearest example lies in the promise of Andy Hill ’17 to put a student on the Yale Corporation, an idea to which he has devoted so little thought that he could not even name three members of the body when prompted, much less justify why undergraduate representation should be privileged over that of graduate students or the faculty. Meanwhile, Ben Martin ’17 wants to ensure that administrators follow through on projects to which they’ve already committed, such as expanding the number of clinicians at Yale Mental Health and Counseling and freezing the student contribution in students’ financial aid packages. But he could not explain precisely how he would go about monitoring hiring procedures at Yale Health, certainly something that lies outside the purview of the Yale College Council president.
English is not immune to similar criticism. In his platform, he states his intention to “demand a comprehensive shift in sexual assault policy and the operations of the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.” This is a foolish and dangerous promise in the hands of someone who admitted to us his ignorance of the federal laws dictating how universities handle sexual assault complaints, as well as the Yale administrators who hold sway on this issue.
This sort of rhetoric is the reason some students don’t trust the YCC, and the reason why administrators are often justified in laughing its representatives out of the room. Big demands must be meticulously researched. Otherwise, student government should focus on more tangible, realistic goals. Of the smaller-scale, more targeted projects pitched by the three candidates, we find English’s most promising. If elected, he should follow through on his promises to examine reconfiguring seminar registration and extending hours for Durfee’s lunch swipes, to name just two.
Equally appealing is English’s view that YCC leaders must reach out to different campus groups, rather than expecting them to come to him. Hill’s plan, simply to bring everyone together, doesn’t seem feasible, at least in the abstract. In frank terms, Martin doesn’t seem to grasp the hard work that goes into leading student government. His suggestion that a steeper learning curve — “I would not hit the ground running,” he told us — would make him a more earnest and responsive president is perplexing.
English is the best person for the job because he has the experience and because he has the stature and vision to make a good case to the administration when students need him to go to bat for them. We hope he uses this platform to gain favor with students and high-level decision makers, but we urge him not to shy away from conflict. It’s troubling that he supported former YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 in his refusal to put the selection of a student representative to the college dean’s search committee to a campus-wide vote. He later changed his mind, last month backing a YCC resolution requiring popular elections in future cases. There is some validity to the concern that English simply goes in whichever direction the political winds blow. If he is elected, he must convince his constituents this is not the case.
In our eyes, the defining moment of the tenure of current president Michael Herbert ’16 was when he stood at the open forum on mental health and challenged Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and other University officials to respond, point by point, to the YCC’s recommendations on mental health.
When Holloway would not commit, Herbert responded: “This is why people in general have tremendous distrust for our administration.” He’s right. It is the privilege — and the job — of the next YCC president to continue fighting this fight.
When students vote tomorrow, we hope they task Joe English with this job.