Honoring democracy

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November 30, 2010

12:40 AM

After over a year of ripening, it looks like the Honor Council Election Task Force, one of the several committees now evaluating the Honor Council’s current structure and operations, has finally borne fruit.
The task force’s recommendations, released late last week, address most of the major problems related to the election process: the predictable excess of freshman applicants, a lack of information on candidates and the often-derided process for excluding contenders from the ballot. However, somewhat surprisingly given the amount of debate that preceded its suggestions, the recommendations the task force proposes to fix these various issues would, in several cases, produce far greater consequences than the current system.
A few of the recommended changes, of course, are obviously necessary. Including a minimum GPA requirement is common sense for any extracurricular, and allowing applicants the ability to include a statement addressing potential reasons for exclusion would remove any obvious miscommunications in the vetting process.

In other areas, however, the new recommendations clearly overstep their bounds. For instance, allowing situations of medical amnesty to be reviewed by the Nominating Committee, would disclose information that is in other areas unavailable for evaluation by the College, runs contrary to the idea of amnesty in the first place. And while it may relate to judicial council selection, the notion is wholly out of place in determining one’s suitability for the Honor Council. Furthermore, the stipulation that “at-large” student members of the Nominating committee must be selected from the Student Assembly is completely unnecessary. Reducing the applicant pool in this manner is needlessly un-competitive and not particularly democratic given the incumbency advantage for returning senators. An overall lack of clarity in the task force’s recommendations, regarding how these processes will actually function, only compounds these questions.

However, the most obvious problem with the task force’s proposed system is the role given to the Nominating Committee in limiting the electoral pool to 16 candidates per social class, in the event of a glut of student applicants. Should the applicants exceed 16, the recommended system suggests, candidates would submit to an interview process to eliminate the excess contenders. Obviously, such a problem only arises regularly among the freshman class, which last year chose between 31 candidates, but this only further accentuates the huge selective power being placed in the hands of relatively small number of students and faculty. Should another 30 freshmen contend for the four available seats again next year, the Nominating Committee will be entrusted to eliminate nearly half of the applicant pool, largely on an arbitrarily decided basis.

That there exists no objective criteria on which to judge applicants is an inherent complication of the Honor Council, in many ways by design. Candidates run neither on values nor on platforms and campaigning is prohibited, leaving only personal statements and face recognition on which to base any vote. Yes, 30 candidates is too many for the average voter to process, but allowing for the possibility that candidates could potentially be selected based on the personal politics of the members involved in the Nominating Committee is certainly worse. Short of a primary system, which would be ill advised for its own reasons, allowing all eligible candidates to compete is the least objectionable option.

At best, the Honor Council can help to make the current voting process more informative. To its benefit, the task force has included language committing to “increased information about candidates available to [the] Student Body,” although what this information is exactly remains to be seen. This is the one recommendation we would urge the Council to adopt, hopefully at the expense of the other suggestions included. Allowing students to make an informed vote is the most transparent and incorruptible system possible, given the current structure of the Honor Council. While creating rung upon rung of evaluation committees is the predictable answer from an already over-bureaucratized organization, we would suggest that steering clear of bureaucracy is the both the simplest and most effective solution.

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