The Warch Interview: IV. Students and their government

Peter Gillette

TL: You mentioned The Lawarchian. Graduates from the late 1970s and early 1980s seem to hold a remarkable fondness for you and your presidency. Why do you think that is?RW: You know, that’s a very good question, Peter. First of all, those guys were as clever as undergraduates as they were as alumni. A lot of them worked on the student newspaper. A group of them got off on my silvering hair – it wasn’t quite as white in 1979, but it was getting there – so they were “giving me the business,” if you will, while they were here. It may be because I was then, you know, in my early forties, about twenty years older than they were. Now I’m a lot older than you and your cohorts, you know? So there’s a certain freshness and exuberance that I think I brought to the job, and I clicked with those guys. You know, this affectionate abuse is a great tribute. They nailed me in a lot of ways, but it was done in ways for which I’m grateful.

TL: You had mentioned in a speech to Mortar Board that there was a J-Board decision involving these guys you overruled?

RW: These guys used to publish The Lawrentian, and it would look like the New York Review of Books. They’d have these long, long essays, and it’d be very thick. Whatever the budget was, they blew by it. And so the publications board brought them to Judicial Board for overrunning, and J-Board found them guilty. They appealed, and I said, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have overrun the budget, but that’s not a J-Board offense, it’s subject to LUCC.” So I wiped out their conviction. [Laughter.]

TL: I’m very interested in that precedent. This interview is going to be three pages long at least. But speaking of J-Board, how would you broadly characterize how you’ve used your power as over-ruler of student groups like J-Board and Honor Council?

RW: Well, first of all, I rarely overrule, though I have opportunities for appeal. I try not to substitute my judgment for the duly constituted groups, J-Board and Honor Council, in reaching these decisions. My concern is that, first of all, the case is clear, the second is that the sanctions are consistent with prior sanctions for similar violations. It can be time-consuming to be the court of last resort. So I don’t think of myself as “over-ruler,” but as the appeal authority. I think over 25 years the number of appeals I’ve overturned has been very small, and the number I’ve modified is very small as well. So I’m not really the “over-ruler.”

TL: You inherited LUCC, which was a fairly young organization when you came here.

RW: It was about ten years old, that’s right.

TL: How have you seen LUCC change through the quarter century?

RW: Well, you know, that’s interesting. First of all, I have a lot of respect for LUCC. I know the administration is getting nailed for making some decisions not to defer to LUCC, and I hope those have been relatively infrequent. In many ways… so I want to say I have respect for LUCC and its jurisdiction. At the same time, I have the obligation to go do what I believe to be the right thing in all these cases. And unless challenged by being overruled by the faculty or something, I have that authority, if you want to put it that way. LUCC in many respects, I think, much of the excitement of LUCC was early on, and had already occurred by the time I got here. Changes in parietal rules, about who could go where, co-educated housing… also…

TL: The VR?

RW: The VR. All of that stuff had taken place in the late 1960s, early 1970s. And to some extent, LUCC, I think – you know I’ve often joked about long debates about defining a small pet: “Small Pet Legislation: What’s a small pet? Is it a ferret a small pet? Small caged animals? dot dot dot…” And so in many respects it very often ended up dealing with, know, I sign the legislation that is forwarded to me by LUCC, and very often what it is – strike out two words, add two words to legislation. And so it’s the tedious business of legislation. I suppose that’s inevitable. Virtually every time students run for office for LUCC, the profession is that they’re going to make LUCC more meaningful, or generate more student respect for LUCC, et cetera, et cetera. It seems to me difficult to do, absent an agenda that gets students interested. When we did the theme housing some years ago, when LUCC did that, people began paying attention to LUCC because it was grappling with, coming up with, rules and regulations dealing with an important aspect of campus life, namely the housing lottery and the like. My sense is that LUCC will generate the respect and interest of the student body when its agenda is not dealing with the nitty-gritty of fine tuning legislation, but rather more broad campus-wide initiatives, trying to enliven student life in some form or fashion, whether its through programming or other opportunities of that sort. And LUCC plays an important rule in appointing students to a variety of all-campus committees and the like, so I think that’s an organization that plays an essential part in the overall governance of the place. But it’s heyday, in a sense…Well, it’s sort of like the Constitution of the United States, you create that more perfect union, and that’s the birth. After that, you’re sort of administering the union you created. Well, that’s sort of where LUCC is.