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Unanswered Questions, Unproposed Agenda Changes: The Consequences of Not Reaching Quorum

Editor’s note: All opinions pieces published in the Clerk represent only the views and ideas of the author. This speech responds to Students’ Council and Honor Council co-heads’ proposed changes to the Plenary agenda  and was not able to be read during Plenary because we failed to reach quorum. 

If we amend the agenda to get rid of the discussions, will students working plenary have their payment leveraged?

Was the pro-con conversation on the agenda accidentally omitted? If not, why was it excluded? Is that not a breach of protocol?

How many people voted on the rankings of the plenary discussion topics?

I want to begin by clarifying a mischaracterization. The Honor Council does not support this new agenda; the Honor Council co-chairs do. And the Honor Council co-chairs do not represent the entire Council. Just like Students’ Council does not represent the entire student body. Which is exactly the problem. If Students’ Council wants to enact this change, they should go about it the same way as other students. Bring forth a resolution. Let the community debate it. That would be within the spirit of the Code. 

Look, I am on Honor Council. I am an HCO. I care deeply about the Honor Code; I care deeply about plenary. But this is not plenary.

When I applied to Haverford it was because of the strong presence of student government here. Plenary embodied that. It was a day where people’s voices mattered. There could be real change. This is not that.

Without anything specific, any means of bringing about change, today is going to be ineffective. Because no one is talking towards a purpose.  Students’ Council is right, one person speaking out to the masses is not always the best vehicle for a message. But discussions between twenty to thirty students are equally fallible. That’s basically the size of a hall discussion. And I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve experienced some unsuccessful hall discussions. 

Over my years at Haverford I have seen the merit of discussion. I’ve seen successful confrontations. I’ve been confronted and confronted others. Conversation is incredibly powerful. But it works best when it’s one on one. When talking about larger concepts, unrooted to any physical resolution containing concrete ideas, the discussion needs to be one-on-one. It’s literally recommended in the Honor Code.  

I wish I could suggest that we replace the discussions with debating resolutions. Maybe discussing resolutions in small groups first would work. But resolutions were discouraged. So all I can suggest is that we cut VI and VII from the agenda. [Editor’s note: items VI and VII on the proposed agenda were a small group discussions and a full student body discussion, respectively, each scheduled to last 45 minutes]

At the end of the day, I simply cannot see this working. There is no significance to the discussion. Nothing concrete at stake. And the danger is that it gives a false impression to first-years. They are left with the perspective that their voices will do nothing. They are given a sense that plenary doesn’t matter.* 

I am not here to say discussion is bad. I read the Clearness Report. There are conversations that need to be had. This is not the way. Bring this idea as a resolution. Bring other ideas as resolutions.  Bring back the Community Day of Engagement. (We now have a President whose priorities are community and inclusion!) 

Ultimately, I believe in conversation. I believe in discussions. I believe in Plenary. It’s just – this isn’t plenary. 

*I walked back to the apartments after plenary and passed first years stressed about a Special Plenary. When I said there wouldn’t be one, they deemed plenary a waste. I was able to explain why Spring Plenary was going to be important, why not reaching quorum for Plenary and facing no repercussions was exclusive to this instance. But they were frustrated. And I’m sure there are now many first years out there that don’t know the significance of Spring Plenary.

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Cover photo by Max Cox ’23.

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