Dear Dean Minow,
I write to you as a member of the Student Government at HLS. The reasons for this open letter are two-pronged. The immediate point relates to the lack of accountability on part of the officers of the Student Government. The long-term one concerns the institutional integrity and place of the Student Government, as an effective channel of communication between the student body and the administration.
In a Student Government meeting on December 7th, 2015, which went on for around four hours in the midst of exams, three resolutions were passed by an overwhelming majority. First, the members of Student Government voted that they call for five instead of three student members on the HLS Shield Working Group. Second, it was decided that two emails will be sent. One to you on behalf of the collective Student Government (as opposed to personal or telephonic communication by the President of Student Government) informing you of the resolution and requesting you to agree on five instead of three student members on the Working Group. The second, to the entire student body informing them of the Student Government’s stand on the issue along with your response and reasons for the same. Finally, it was decided that since you have tasked the Student Government to select the three students on Working Group, the call for applications will be sent on 16th December 2015 after these two emails have been sent.
None of these three resolutions were acted upon. The President and the Vice-President of the Student Government informed us that due to lack of time and examination phase, they couldn’t send the two emails. On sending the call for applications three days earlier than decided (13th December, 2015), their reasoning was that at the meeting with you, Dean Sells and around forty student leaders, everyone insisted that the decision on students to be appointed on the Working group be taken as soon as possible and so they did not wait to send out the applications on the agreed date.
Through follow-up emails, several concerns/questions have been raised by members of Student Government, including myself, but there has been no response to them to date. These include questions about why other student members were not asked to draft and send the emails (if time was a concern), why we can’t send these emails now, what the procedure will be for selection of students, etc.
This scheme of things has implications beyond the appointment of three versus five student members. It makes one question the internal democracy in the Student Government, the relationship of the Student Government with you and the effectiveness of the Student Government in acting as a bridge between the administration and the student body. Even though your personal communication with the officers (the President and the Vice-President) are indispensable in oiling the cogs of administrative efficiency, there is merit in the Student Government following a certain process, by recording the conversations through emails, by maintaining minutes of the meetings of Student Government and of overall transparency and accountability of the Student Government. Personal interactions in order to compromise agreed resolutions in the Student Government harms the institutional integrity of this body in the long term. Further, this body is disabled of keeping proper records and safeguarding institutional memory pertinent to long-term efficacy. You will agree that evidence and rules of procedure have more than decorative importance when issues are contested.
The Vice-President informed us in a brusque one liner response that your reason for not accepting five instead of three student members on the Working Group is that you ‘do not have control over the committee structure because of constraints from the Corporation.’ This sort of offhand communication is problematic not only because elected representaives of students may confuse themselves as spokespersons for the administration but also because there is no way to follow up on these responses with you. To ask for instance where is the structure of the committee laid down? What constraints from the Corporation are we talking about?
The Student Government at HLS is an enduring institution and its important that in the broader call for transparency that has engulfed this school, we turn our eyes equally to this institution. If communication is the key in this process of building transparency then I hope though this letter, I am playing my part.
LL.M. Avani Bansal ’16
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