I t’s my fault. Blame me. Early last semester I read about the Yard, the name informally and then formally given to student self-governance at Georgetown between 1874 and 1969. I became fascinated and set my hand to writing a Yard constitution that would revolutionize today’s campus culture as the Yard had done periodically before. I was excited. How often does it happen that one might revive a Georgetown tradition, yet thoughtfully offer a revolutionary change?

As I explored the Yard concept of “constituent democracy,” I became convinced that it would be uniquely competent to represent students and their communities, while maximizing liberty and the common good. In fact, the old Yard, which served the College alone, recognized the common good and voted itself out in favor of a university-wide body. Unfortunately, students unwisely abandoned the Yard’s proven structure. The many subsequent structures have turned out less perfect and durable.

Over months, with a draft of a constitution online thanks to Jack Ternan (COL ’01), others offered ideas and attempted to bring the new Yard “back to the future.” Now that I am merely a footnote and more than 1,000 others have opened their minds to this new idea, it falls to this romantic to introduce a very modern student government. A Yard that retains the elements of freedom and coalition that made the Yard effective and would still be familiar to happy ghosts. But also a Yard that is profoundly a 21st century idea.

Compared to GUSA, the new Yard gives a greater voice to students through bi-annual Convocations open to everyone. The monthly meetings of the Yard Commons will assemble club leaders for coordination of student culture in service to all. The Yard Council will replace the GUSA Assembly. Unlike GUSA’s 16-member assembly, the Council will represent students by class, school, residence, clubs and universally-elected parliamentary officers.

Organizations meeting in the Yard Commons will voluntarily select themselves into nine clusters, according to shared attributes or interests. Each cluster will elect one of nine representatives to fill out the 21-member Council. The nine leaders will represent the 80 percent of all students involved in clubs and thereby enhance total representation to include the 70 percent of all students who presently do not participate in GUSA elections.

Of no small significance is the “President of the Yard,” a position capable of speaking for clubs, classes, schools and dormitories, capable of calling upon all constituencies and capable of coordinating leaders with access to financial resources.

Under the Yard, students will have key individual rights recognized and advocated including the right to free speech and association and the right to privacy, good name and personal dignity.

But most revolutionary is that each student will have the right to allocate an equal, per student portion of his money – the tuition supplied “university funds” available to campus activities. Akin to voting online, students will be able to support up to 10 organizations, or just one, by distributing 10 units of their portion. The allocation, to occur after the student activities fair in mid-September, will allow instant calculation.

The Student Activities Commission will be scrapped. Each student will be empowered to allocate his money, and students will hold organizations accountable for the good they do. Clubs will be free to run themselves and manage their funds for their purposes. Administrators, lovable as they are, will have a much-reduced role in funding, limited to disbursement and audit. The proposed constitution provides for a reserve fund and protects current levels of funding of Georgetown Public Board, community service and performing arts groups, while allowing some of these groups to get more funds.

The Yard will help GU move into the 21st century by establishing a New Resources Committee to secure alumni and other financial sources. It will improve on the planned endowment, allowing new funds to be allocated by students directly and helping to establish separate endowments for clubs with an alumni following. The Yard will authorize the creation of a professionally-managed independent fund for student activities, not administrative overhead.

The Yard’s information committee will evaluate technology systems, develop agreements with the Saxa Server Project and other online information providers. It will advocate the hiring of a coordinator of technology services to make technology an integral part of student affairs support, including individual club Web site maintenance and support. The Yard president will deploy volunteer student assistance to the Director of the Office of Campus Activity Facilities and the registrar so that, among other things, space and classroom requests may be completed online.

The Yard will carry out long-discussed goals and the recommendations of the Report on Student Life, among them: commissioning a pro-bono management audit of the student affairs office by a reputable management consulting firm; increasing student spaces in general; designating a suitably large lounge space to be used for purposes of conversation, gaming and to entertain faculty, family and other guests; obtain coordinated access to students of historic spaces for special uses; and place student representatives on university boards and their student life committees.

The Yard concept – representatives and leaders joined in a common purpose – will prove to be a timeless idea. As in the late 1800s, early 1900s and two post-World War booms, the Yard will spark campus culture to levels that, frankly, we deserve here in the nation’s capital.

It will also shape another generation whose love for this place will last a lifetime. Long enough to improve upon John Carroll’s unfinished project for the republic, as the last generation to emerge from the Yard’s best years did for us with their hearts and treasures.

John Cook is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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