Because Two Feet in the Mouth are Better Than One

Today (yesterday) the Crimson Ed Board again opined, not just once but twice, on the recent resignation of Ian Nichols and his replacement by fellow CC contributor Clay Capp. As usually happens when the Crimson Ed Board attempts to tackle Undergraduate Council goings-on, the end result was a mix of shortsighted recommendations, rhetorical innuendo, unnecessary “sexing up” of less than sexy facts – in short, putting a foot in one’s mouth. Today however, we get two feet, as freshman CrimEd Adam Goldenberg, perhaps better known for his concern about the lack of an “abstain” option in the December elections, makes the premature and quite egregious call for Capp’s resignation; thereby swallowing an entire leg.

Following the “fisking” format used in my previous post on direct election reform, I’ll address the opinions set forth in today’s Crimson. As with most fiskings, it may run a little on the longer side. (more in expanded post)

First, it should go without saying that since I am a contributor on CC, that I personally know and am friends with Clay Capp. I’ve known Clay for several years now and consider him to be a good friend. The same can be said about my relationship to Jason Lurie, Aaron Chadbourne, Faraz Munaim, Ian Nichols, and any number of other candidates, both actual or would-be, for the Vice-Presidential race. Except for Crimson Reporter Liz Goodwin, who was nominated at the UC meeting but declined – I can’t claim to know her very well at all.

I’ll take each piece of writing in turn – first the Crimson Ed Board’s opinion and then Goldenberg’s. Ready? Go.

The selection of the council vice president is a matter too important to be left to a small group of representatives—subject to immense internal political pressures—at the end of their respective terms. The council must change its rules so that the vice president’s selection adequately reflects the needs and interests of the 6,500 term-bill-fee-paying undergraduates to whom the council is ultimately responsible.

A few things here: first, it’s kinda strange that the Crimson Ed Board, who just endorsed abolishing separate elections for President and VP in favor of allowing the President to hand-pick his runningmate, essentially says that allowing the UC to vote for the VP is some how not democratic enough. Ironic, don’t you think. Nice to see that their concern for the most democratic method of choosing a Council VP doesn’t get in the way of their recommendation that the UC adopt a less democratic method of election. Useless inneundo? Check.

Second, why would it not be good for the current Council to select the new VP? According to the Crimson, it’s because the current group of reps, even though all lame-ducks, are subject to “immense internal political pressure.” Yes, little did you know, but your UC reps are weak-willed tools with backbones resembling chocolate eclairs who fold at even the slightest hint of disagreement. Right. Of course, the Crimson neglects that this is the same Council that just shot down, not once but twice, the keystone legislation of the reform report – direct committee election, which was strongly favored by the current administration and the Crimson.

The Crimson neglects the rather obvious argument that, having served with the candidates for an entire year, maybe the current reps are very well suited to evaluate each candidate on their merits. If the election were to have been put off for the summer, next year’s Council, which nearly always has 60% turnover, would have been tasked with electing a new VP. Why would we think that these novices would have anymore will to fight the system than the current reps who have nothing to lose, especially those who have already announced that they will not be returning? Unncessary sexing up of the situation? Check.

Oh, and thanks for bringing up the “term-bill paying” point. Which brings me to this sham.

The closeness of the 22-20 vote is worrying particularly because it amounts to 22 students choosing a vice president responsible to 6,500 undergraduates, and for the term-bill fees that those undergraduates pay each year. That a victory this narrow can determine the person to administer students’ money is unacceptable.

Really Crimson Ed Board? Is that how you feel? How do you feel about the Council internally electing its Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair, who together control 67% of the Council budget? How do you feel about the internal election of the Student Affairs Chair and Campus Life Chair, who together control approximately another 31%? How do you feel about a 15 person committee controlling the entire rules, procedures, and grant decisions for the quarter-million dollar grants fund? Surely, you might say, because each of those reps was first elected by the student body in their respective houses. Right you certainly are. But what about Clay Capp and the Vice-Presidency? How much does he control? Zero. The same amount as the President, Matt Glazer. Capp arguably has slightly more control than Glazer, seeing as Glazer can only vote to break a tie. Capp at least has a vote on legislation – the same influence he had as a rep from Kirkland. “But the Vice-President is on the Executive Board!” you might say. Yes, and so is the Campus Life Chair, the Finance Chair, the Student Affairs, Chair, the Secretary, and the Treasurer – all elected internally.

And please, it’s “unacceptable” that Capp’s narrow election allows him to “administer” student funds (as if he hasn’t already served as Treasurer)? I recall Ian Nichols being elected by 50 votes out of 4,000 – 50 votes that he certainly would not have had without an engineered Crimson endorsement that, as every member of Council could attest, trumped up Ian’s record. Clay Capp received more votes than any other VP candidate ever except Ian Nichols. Ian Nichols is now gone. How is it that Capp doesn’t have a legitimate claim to have student support? Did that support somehow vaporize in the aftermath of an election, participated in by the current electorate, held only five months ago?

In the future, if the council vice president resigns too late in the year for proper full elections to take place, the council should internally elect an interim vice president, to serve until the soonest convenient time at which a student vote can take place

I’ve already addressed this in part as to why internal elections in the fall would be bad, but let me extend that to the entire campus. It is equally problematic to allow either outgoing seniors or incoming freshmen, both comprising 25% of the electorate, to choose the new VP in campus-wide elections. Let’s not pretend that asking a bunch of bright-eyed first-years to vote on a slate of upperclassmen only days after arriving on campus embues any future candidate with some sense of legitimacy. Like novice Councilmembers, the freshmen would be singularly unqualified to make that decision – namely, because they don’t really know what’s going on. It’s equally problematic to allow outgoing seniors who have weeks left in their Harvard experience to choose a new VP, since their decision would be binding for an entire semester on first-years who will be more disproportionately impacted by that decision. Short-sighted recommendation? Check.

It seems then that the current system is not illegitimate, but a good faith compromise. It allows the elected representatives of the students, who have worked with the candidates first hand, to make a decision.

As council vice president, Clay Capp can claim little more than a tenuous mandate. Capp, who failed to win the position in last December’s elections, won the post by the narrowest of margins against an opponent who is to graduate in three weeks.

I think I already covered this above. Look, you can’t move the goalposts in the middle of the game because you didn’t get your way. The system that was used has been in place long before anyone reading this was at Harvard, maybe even high school. It has never been used before. Clay won under the rules in place. Clay has just as much a mandate as any other narrowly elected officer. And, to be frank, the vote for Lurie likely represented the frustrations of many would be candidates who had sought support for the position in vain. Simply, Matt Glazer thought that Clay was the best for the job. He said that only months ago. Why should he change now? That he stuck to that opinion did not force out candidates, it just removed what they saw as their only way of winning the election.

The executive board, lacking a clear and strong mandate to govern, should now be highly self-critical and especially careful in the decisions that they make about spending student money.

What does the Exec Board have to do with this? What does the Exec Board expenditures have to do with this? How does the Exec Board, 5/7 of the voting members being internally elected, not have a mandate to govern? Does Glazer’s record win no longer count? The Crimson Ed Board is taking its ball and going home. Nevermind all the argumentation that came before it – the CrimEds are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. You hear that UC Exec Board! Be careful when you spend student money.

Now on to Goldenberg. I’ll cut it short since Goldenberg echoes the points in the editorial, but has a few problematic things.

Capp holds the second most important seat in Harvard’s student government as a result of an undemocratic selection process, a reality that will not change with the modification of UC protocol called for by this newspaper….

Capp’s selection is illegitimate not only because of he was chosen by a deeply flawed electorate, but also because he was not subjected to scrutiny from the student body….

As President Matthew J. Glazer ’06 continues to push his agenda for council reform, it would be sadly hypocritical for his right-hand man not to relinquish the power that he now holds as a result of the very kind of procedural mishap that the council ought to fix. And though he is by no means bound to go beyond the council bylaws as they currently stand, Capp should seize the chance to demonstrate real commitment to the student body by choosing the honorable course, and by putting his fate in the hands of his peers.

I’ve already addressed this, but once again, Clay Capp has withstood scrutiny by the student body more than any other candidate that could have been out there save Ian Nichols. That the Crimson continues to hammer away on this is amazing given that the election clearly was as democratic as it could have been made under the circumstances. Protocols were followed down to the letter – even Secretary Matt Greenfield (then acting VP) officially signed every single ballot. This was not a procedural mishap – the Council followed that it had to. Wouldn’t it have looked questionable to have changed the rules? What candidate would Goldenberg have then alleged stood to gain from a campus-wide election in the fall? Probably still Capp.

Indeed, the Crimson’s editorial last week on Ian Nichols’ departure mentioned the upcoming election and made absolutely no mention of how those elections should be conducted. The Crimson Ed Board knew what was going to happen. They knew the process. They cared so much about how that process was to play-out and felt so deeply that, of all candidates, Clay Capp shouldn’t have the Vice-Presidency, that they made zero mention of it before the election. I can’t help but wonder whether if some other candidate than Clay Capp won the election if we’d even be having this debate. Seeing as how the Crimson wouldn’t have had to scramble to save face if Aaron Chadbourne were elected, I think the Ed Board just may have had a different opinion. Just maybe. Now for some real chutzpah and the close of this missive.

Capp—elected by the members of a council that has been marinating in its own notorious internal politics for eight months and not by the student body to which he is responsible as vice president—cannot claim any real kind of mandate.

First, the internal composition of the body that elected Clay has absolutely no bearing on whatever mandate he had. This is a pathetic rhetorical flourish.

But more importantly, Mr. Goldenberg, it is interesting, indeed asinine, that anyone associated with the Crimson should ever dare use the language that you did in describing another organization’s internal politics. “Marinating in its own notorious internal politics for eight months?” Pot meet kettle. For 132 Guards. May you fare well in the Crimson’s internal elections, Mr. Goldenberg, a true model of good-spirited, heartily democratic, and conflict free elections.

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7 responses to “Because Two Feet in the Mouth are Better Than One

  1. You abuse Adam for his rhetorical flourishes and then succumb to one yourself:

    “But more importantly, Mr. Goldenberg, it is interesting, indeed asinine, that anyone associated with the Crimson should ever dare use the language that you did in describing another organization’s internal politics. “Marinating in its own notorious internal politics for eight months?” Pot meet kettle. For 132 Guards. May you fare well in the Crimson’s internal elections, Mr. Goldenberg, a true model of good-spirited, heartily democratic, and conflict free elections.”

    I think you know that his editorial–however bad you think it–was arguing that internal bickering in a student-elected organization that students give money to rendered the election of the vp even more undemocratic than the bylaws mandate it to be. Your accusations that the shoot process is also steeped in internal politics don’t carry weight, because crimson editors are not elected by the student body to administer student funds, and thus can bicker and fuck around as much as they like with impunity.
    Or at least that’s my take on it.
    Otherwise, I agree that the op-ed was pretty asinine.

  2. Jamal Sprucewood

    “Your accusations that the shoot process is also steeped in internal politics don’t carry weight, because crimson editors are not elected by the student body to administer student funds, and thus can bicker and fuck around as much as they like with impunity.”

    They actually do hold weight because you don’t deny them – you merely say they don’t apply. Obviously Crimson editors can do whatever they want, I was just pointing out the irony of an organization know for “marinating” in its internal politics criticizing another organization for the same thing. I don’t think this can be denied.

    And what is this about bickering and administering student funds? How does being student-elected and tasked with the responsibility of managing money somehow lead to the conclusion that the UC shouldn’t bicker amongst itself? Like any other organization it’s made up of people with different goals and conflicting ambitions. Sometimes this results in internal strife – especially when there is an election (read prestigious sounding office) to be won. You’re right that the UC can’t do it “with impunity” – if the bickering leads to paralysis there will be adverse consequences – but the Crimson, although not elected by the student body, is indeed responsible to them and should be concerned when its editors write poorly informed pieces. A lack of external election doesn’t change this. The Crimson, like the UC, depends on public (student) trust to be viable.

    It should have been expected that members of the UC competing for the same office resulted in internal strife. Campus-wide elections can and have resulted in campus division. The level of “strife” present in an election doesn’t render it any less democratic – especially when conducted by a completely secret ballot. Strife-free elections would be an absurdly high standard to hold democracy – I don’t even know if the two concepts are compatible.

    Yes, I realize that I used a rhetorical flourish in “abusing” Goldenberg (I call it constructive criticism). But you’ll note that I didn’t criticize him for using rhetorical flourishes per se, but for using “pathetic” rhetorical flourishes and, by extension, asinine rhetorical flourishes. My rhetorical flourish, in my humble opinion, was neither pathetic nor asinine. So enough rhetorical flourishes. Oh wait… :)

    Glad you generally agree with me about the op-ed.

  3. Hi Jamal.

    I’m glad to read that you had a look over my comment in Monday’s edition of The Crimson. It’s always nice to know that folks are reading the paper, even in the dark depths of reading period.

    Though I’m a member of The Crimson’s Editorial Board, my comments represent my own views and not those of the paper itself. I wasn’t in the room when The Crimson decided its endorsement last December. In fact, I wasn’t even an Editor at the time. I’ve never met Ian Nichols and I’m only barely acquainted with Clay Capp. The Ed Board’s position on the election is that it could, in the future, be more democratic. What would be required is a rule change to allow for the selection of an interim VP to serve until the student body can be polled. It’s really no different, Jamal, than if a rep from Kirkland House were to resign. Would the UC elect a replacement? Just as the residents of Kirkland House would get to vote for the person to replace their resigned representative, the student body should have a similar say in the selection of a new VP. Clay Capp is the VP of Harvard’s student government. I have great respect for the UC, but I’d much rather have a hand in choosing the person who lobbies U-Hall on my behalf and provides leadership to the council that spends my money, than leave his election to a group of his colleagues. The system is imperfect and can be improved. Why shouldn’t it be?

    My comment went beyond that position, which is why it is printed under my name and not under the name of “The Crimson Staff.” I feel that Clay Capp will be an excellent VP. I say as much in the editorial. I don’t believe, however, that he can claim a mandate from his consituents given the way in which he was elected. If you asked me for a prediction today, I’d guess that Clay would win an election if it were held in September, and I think that, if he’s to put himself in the best position as a leader, he ought to give the students the final say on his election. The way the UC replaces resigned officials has to change. But just because the rules ought to change for the future doesn’t mean Clay Capp is powerless to act now. No one is forcing him to resign. I point out in my editorial, however, that stepping down to run for his position is the honorable choice for Clay. I hope he does, not because I want him ousted but rather because I think he will be much more secure in his position in the eyes of the student body if he gives them a say in his selection.

    As for Aaron Chadbourne and this assertion that my comment reflects The Crimson’s trying to save face, I don’t know Aaron, and I don’t see why I, as someone whow wasn’t a Crimson Editor when the endorsement was made in December, have any face to save. I’m interested in how my student government runs, and I’m disappointed when it runs poorly. This isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t even unfixable, hence my call for Clay’s placing himself in the hands of his peers come September.

    Finally, your claim that, “the Crimson, although not elected by the student body, is indeed responsible to them and should be concerned when its editors write poorly informed pieces,” is mistaken. Beyond my disagreement with the last part—I don’t think my piece was poorly informed, but you make pretty clear elsewhere that you disagree with me fiercely, so so be it—I think you misunderstand the place of any newspaper. Newspapers are responsible to their readers only to the extent that they disseminate the truth. They are not responsible for only printing those opinions with which their readers agree. Furthermore, there is a serious difference between the internal politics at The Crimson and those within the UC. The former shapes the executive structure of the newspaper, which has a negligible effect on the way the paper operates. The news isn’t made by Crimson Editors: things happen and we write about it. Opinion isn’t made by people elected as a result of internal politics: elected executives make sure the opinions of writers and the opinions of The Crimson Staff (which are voted on by a room full of very independent-minded people in every case) are printed each day. The UC, on the other hand, spends students’ money and claims the authority to lobby the administration directly on their behalf. It is frankly absurd that you point and shout “hypocrisy!” at my description of the UC’s internal politics. The UC is a student government, and The Crimson is a student newspaper. They have very different purposes and functions. The UC is responsible to students because of the specific functions it performs on their behalf and at their expense. The Crimson reports the news and expresses opinions. The two are not the same thing, and The Crimson is not responsible to students the way a government is.

    All that said, I’m glad that you read my piece in such depth and that my work has started this kind of discussion. I really hope you keep on reading.

    Yours,
    Adam Goldenberg

  4. Jamal Sprucewood

    Adam:

    Thanks for the lengthy response. Let me say up front that I apologize for the tone of my original posting. I posted with the intention of matching your Comment in its tone, which was pretty condescending of the UC. Had your Comment been reasoned as was printed here, I don’t think I would have so fiercely disagreed. I still disagree with you, for reasons I’ll go into below, on Clay resigning.

    I’m aware of the role of a newspaper on campus, and I stand by my comment that the Crimson has a responsibility to the student body and I think that responsibility extends beyond reporting the truth, but I think that you misread my response to the Anonymous poster. I was speaking in terms of both the UC and the Crimson needing to maintain public trust to be viable. I don’t think that you really dispute this. Moreover, I was focused on his comment about internal strife. To go back to the original point though, I was simply pointing out that, knowing what I do about internal Crimson politics, that the Crimson’s internal politics can be just as bad if not worse than any UC politics. I said in my response to Anonymous that I recognize the difference between the UC and the Crimson. My problem is that I think you mistake the UC’s internal strife with somehow delegitimizing the process that was in place. I think I made clear in my response to Anonymous that strife is inherent in any sort of election, so I think you unnecessarily conflate the two and say that the presence of the former imperils the validity of the latter.

    I intended my comments to be directed primarily at the Crimson Ed Board. I attacked you as well inasmuch as you are now an editor and your comment was printed on the same day as the editorial and reiterated many of the same points. I respect the Crimson in just about everything it does. Specifically, I tend to think that the newsroom gets too much crap from people about shoddy reporting – I think it’s generally well done. I have, however, felt for a while now that the Crimson Ed Board fails in its responsibility to the student body in opining on the UC. I realize that they write opinion, but it is pretty much the only place on campus where students get opinions about the UC. I, as a reader of the Crimson, expect those opinions to be well-informed and well-reasoned. Having a depth of knowledge about the UC, however, I have noticed that the Crimson Ed Board’s opinions are very often ill-informed and reflect personal animosities or prejudices (not so much this year as last) when it comes to the UC. I think that is a disservice to the student body and I would argue that the Crimson Ed Board’s internal politics, at least in the area of covering the UC, matter a great deal.

    When you claim that the UC has marinated so much in its internal politics as to render it an unfit forum for an election, I take offense because it impacts the way students view the UC in general. You made that statement without, to my knowledge, having ever visited a UC meeting. Until the Crimson Ed Board came to the VP election, most had never set foot in a meeting either. Yet, with a very rudimentary understanding of the Council, they often disparage the UC and make recommendations about its internal processes. You (meaning the Ed Board) don’t have to print what I want to read, but I expect when you do decide to print something that it lack the innuendo and personal animus that has characterized much printed in the past. The Crimson has a virtual monopoly on news analysis and editorial opinion on campus and its disproportionate weight in campus debates should be countered with a higher standard of reporting – which the Ed Board indirectly does quite frequently. This is what I was referring to; not the Crimson at large. To get to the meat of your particular point though.

    I don’t think that Clay should resign because, even though it might be an honorable thing to do in the abstract, I don’t think that it is the smart thing to do given the circumstances. I just don’t think it is appropriate for first-years who’ve been on campus for a scant few weeks to elect a VP from a slate of upperclassmen. Furthermore, given the way that campaigns are run for UC leadership positions, I think that Clay submitting himself to a vote in the fall puts him at a large disadvantage vis-a-vis a rising junior. When a junior runs in December for UC President or VP, it is done at the time when the candidate arguably should have the most influence and the largest base of support. Having worked in campus organizations for 2.5 years, a junior can expect to know quite a few seniors and many sophomores.

    The barrier then, is always to connect with freshmen, which is why campaigns focus so hard on the Yard. I’m sure you got more than a few knocks at your door back in December. Asking Clay to submit himself to a vote in September then is asking him to run with one hand tied behind his back – his strong base of support in the Class of 2005 will be gone and he will know few, if any, members of the incoming Class of 2009. Clay will in reality have only two classes to which he could appeal for support. An up-and-coming junior will be able to draw support from three classes and will be equal to Clay only in respect to the Class of 2009. I would argue that this is much more unfair that the way the election was conducted.

    Finally, given that there will no longer be separate elections for VP, I don’t think that the reform either you or the Crimson Ed Board endorse can be valid. If the stated reason for getting rid of separate elections is to ensure that an elected President has a right-hand man (or woman! :) ) to successfully work with, it doesn’t make sense to open up an election to the entire campus when the pick of VP was not open to the entire student body from the get-go. The selection fell to one person – the Presidential candidate. And while students get an indirect say in the propriety of a VP selection by proxy vote for the Presidential candidate, it does not come close to a separate election for the VP. Given that, I think that the system in place would work well should another VP ever step down. The Council, having worked with the potential candidates for the office, best would be able to weigh the merits of the candidates and their ability to work alongside the President. We could, perhaps, even consider just shifting up officers and having the Secretary or Treasurer assume the office and then elect their replacement internally, as has always been done.

    The bottom line is that the issue is a lot more complex than simply campus election=fair,legit,democratic. There are tradeoffs with the proposed scheme and given the change to the ticket option, it may not make as much sense as it did if the we continued to elect UC leaders separately. This is my primary disagreement with you personally and I realize it is a difference of opinion. That and I found the original post to be a little too spiced up for my taste.

    So with that, I hope that there will be no personal animus develop between us. I liked the reasoning and tone of your comment here much more than your Comment in the Crimson. Maybe you were pandering a little to the audience – I know I was. I certainly apologize if you took any of it as a personal attack – it was not meant to be. It’s easy for newspapers to take shots at government institutions, and we bloggers have fun at the expense of newspapers. It’s a vicious cycle sometimes, but we’re really on the same team. I’ll keep on reading, and I hope you come back to CC.

  5. Cheers, Jamal.

    I appreciate your commentary, even when I serve as its fodder. Though we disagree on the point of Clay’s re-election, I appreciate the discussion. Clay is a politician, and I write editorials, so that I come down on the side of idealism (rather than pragmatism) is hardly surprising. That said, I really do appreciate your comments. Though it might be hard to believe, discussion is what brings people to The Crimson Editorial Board and is certainly what keeps them there. That said, I hope that we keep talking.

    Best,
    Adam

  6. That was such an ass-kissing end to a promising debate.

  7. I’d be happy to keep debating, but finals and research papers beckon.

    I’m sure we’ll have plenty of chances to rehash this one in September.

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