Can You Do Something?

This week StuCo kicked off its annual contest to pick its next leader. The democratic ethos that descended upon the campus in the fall has made a bumbling return. Over meals in Uncommons, students argue over who could “do more.” In the library, voters speculate about who could give better speeches. But confusion inevitably arises when one student asks, “well what does the president do, anyway?” The answer isn’t clear. If not a policy-maker, the president is a leader. As the highest elected official, he or she is someone we can all look up to. A friend we can all count on. Someone whose speeches we can look forward to. Someone who won’t care when I end three phrases with a preposition. When it comes down to it, the president is a great kid that we all decide really deserves to get into college. But what the president can actually “do” is limited, and not by his or her capacity to govern, but rather by the constraints of the office itself. What is certain is that the president represents the views of the students in discussions with the administration and oversees Student Council, the responsibilities of which are also unclear. The Blue Book says that Student Council “works with the five Cluster Councils, as well as with other student and faculty groups and committees, to address school-wide issues and proposals.” Activities from the recent minutes include writing “strategic plans” and maintaining takeout-menu websites. But otherwise it’s just like any other club with a faculty advisor and a sizeable stash of PSPA money. Since I started at Andover, Student Council has kept busy. It has commissioned, waited for, tested and abandoned an online sign-in program. It has invented new positions, designed some cool sportswear, thrown cookouts on the lawn and even found the time to write two short novels — “Blue Pages” and a user’s guide to the disciplinary system, both of which have gone inexplicably out of print. Many say that Student Council’s greatest feat is the BlueCard, the nifty device that’s going to replace my debit card, keys and student ID, effectively reducing my walking payload by a full two ounces and making it significantly easier for me to lose everything all at once. Nevertheless, after four years, my wallet still awaits its coming. My nomination goes to the revival of School Congress last year. The sessions of School Congress, which convened most recently on Monday, have been few but successful in getting students and teachers to talk. Until Bobo and Dean Joel conceived the Kitchen Table Project, which launched last week, School Congress was the only accessible format for dialogue. Meanwhile, conversation between Student Council and the administration has improved famously. StuCo’s Sunday-night meeting, which once upon a time left the Trustees Room steaming with indignation, has turned into a weekly picnic in the Dean’s of Students living room, where steam rises only from Mrs. Murphy’s reportedly delicious baked goods. But for the Council’s fruitlessness, we cannot blame our devoted leaders, but rather the structure they have inherited with an awkward and unclear chain of command. The Cluster System made sense when the clusters’ councils were legislative bodies that set their own parietal hours. Now since the school has centralized all authority and pared cluster self-government, the Cluster System has been rendered desultory. We are left with a unmitigated mess of dorm reps, class reps, executive secretaries, cluster presidents, school presidents, cluster deans, associate deans and finally a Dean of Students— a thorny bureaucracy with no intelligible organization of responsibility. If students want to voice their concerns about a school policy or program, are they to tell their class representatives? Their cluster dean? Dean Murphy? The Dean of Students Office bears the responsibility for nearly all non-curricular issues. But since Student Council has neither any meaningful powers nor clear responsibilities, students have little reason to report their ills and pains to it, and consequently many of the student body’s problems never get their day in court. As we prepare to vote for our next School President, let’s help the candidates. Let’s speak up. Let’s tell them what we want. Let’s give StuCo something to argue for. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be able to do something. Harrison Hart is a four-year Senior from Baltimore, Maryland and former Commentary editor of The Phillipian.