As I complete my Marshall scholarship here at Oxford, I occasionally seek refuge from England’s weather in The Hoya’s online pages. The article “Bringing Back the Yard” (Dec. 5, 2000, p. 3) by Jack Ternan (COL ’04) brought back thoughts of the time my classmates and I sacrificed as organization leaders to improve campus culture, and, as Ternan makes clear, the needed change we left undone.

Ternan’s article was familiar terrain for me. I was the lead author and one of the chief organizers of the original Report on Student Life. His arguments were not as well presented as they could have been but I was excited to access the Yard’s Web site, theyard2001.tripod.com, and read the proposed Yard constitution that Ternan and his more seasoned colleagues are proposing. The RSL effort resulted in nearly a 50 percent increase in student activities funding. The Yard is the natural extension of the RSL in many ways, not least of which is the constitution’s inclusion of our long-studied recommendations. The constitution’s authors have done their homework to tap into prior experience, perhaps as much as a century’s worth.

The Yard proposes a community of student clusters to replace the current community of splinters, where right now organizations fight separately for inadequate space and pitiful funding. The present structure gives no incentive to work cooperatively, but rather provides every incentive for groups to compete against each other. The result? Student governance that is not governance at all, where leaders’ knowledge of purchase orders matters more than their ideas.

The Yard would provide incentives for students to work together. We learned with the RSL that there is power in numbers but even more power in unity of purpose. The organizing principles of the Yard Student Association are sound: widened democratic representation extended to natural communities which draw on the experience of grassroots leadership and the direct student control of resources with minimum bureaucracy.

The Yard proposal gets the job done with the elegance of simplicity. Less-considered efforts would have the same elaborate bureaucratic bells and whistles that would be as ineffective and burdensome to student leaders as GUSA and the Student Activities Commission. As a former service chair for Alpha Phi Omega and a one-time Community Action Coalition chair, I remember the frustrations and burdens well. Unfortunately, most internal reform proposals where GUSA is involved simply substitute one sterile form of governance for another. The new Yard would unleash a dynamism Georgetown students have never known, matched with unprecedented coordination and liberty.

But the reason I write is to defend against the onslaught that inevitably comes from any suggestion to make revolutionary change as the Yard constitution and Ternan describe. No doubt opponents will argue irrationally about elitism, anachronism and other “-isms” merely because the word “Yard” is used. Some will seek out bogeymen and unkindly accuse their peers of ill intention forgetting that the real monster is the unrelenting inefficiency of the current system. Some students will invariably choose to waste their time playing “defend the castle,” while visions of plum conspiracies dance in their heads. My hope is that others will recognize the Yard for what it is: good idea masquerading as – gasp! – a good idea.

The RSL was perhaps the most successful student effort in memory. We worked in a business-like manner without fanfare during the very time that would-be GUSA reformers were spinning their wheels with explosive commotion. We didn’t need a bureaucracy to imbue our ideas with authority. Rather, the need for change and the seriousness of our arguments commanded authority. We simply gathered the most accomplished club leaders and, armed with studied facts and figures, applied our results-oriented experience.

The Yard is the best way to continue where we left off, giving students more power to better shepherd the resources and demand the education they deserve. Our success is the best argument for the Yard’s proposed organic constitution, and our means are the best proof that, as the lead vehicle of student leadership, GUSA-SAC is structurally self-defeating, which is no doubt the reason why administrators are quick to preserve and laud it.

Jaremey McMullin is a 1999 graduate of the College.

Related Links

 Call for Yard Is Not Answer to Problems (1/19/01)

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