Many of College Council’s current roles were previously executed by other organizations, namely the Gargoyle Society. Unfortunately, not a lot has been documented about the College Council since the 1970s. Many Record articles exist, but no one has actually attempted to put together a comprehensive history. Perhaps this is something future Councils will consider. This is a brief rundown of why the Council was formed and some major changes that have taken place since.
Before College Council, Class Presidents and Officers, student organizations like The Good Government Club, and The Gargoyle Society represented the student interests in advancing the College.
Class governance is the oldest form of student government on campus. Each class elected officers and formed committees to organize social events, particularly to enhance interclass rivalries. Often, the seniors oversaw events; sophomores and first-years actually did the groundwork. Class government was and remains to be a good way to organize class events, but working well and consistently together proved to be a challenge for the classes.
Prior to having an official student government, College meetings were held regularly to foster debate and action.
The Gargoyle Society, which was founded in 1895, sought to influence the campus in more ways than simply by organizing events. Their founding members explained: “The object of this organization shall be to discuss College matters, and take active steps for the advancement of Williams in every branch of College life and work, and to exert itself against anything which it considers detrimental to such advancement.” As a senior honor society, Gargoyle annually inducted its own new members, as it still does today, rather than employing a campus-wide lottery.
Early Gargoyle projects included promoting healthy class rivalry and getting the student body to embrace the College’s Honor Code, which had been adopted by the Class of 1896, but was treated with indifference by incoming students. Another Gargoyle focus was promoting athletics.
At the time, the College did not fund athletic teams, so each team had its own managers, which collected taxes from classmates to fund the athletes. This led to inconsistent leadership and many unpaid pills and began eroding the College’s reputation. Gargoyle therefore created the Athletic Council, which enabled systematic auditing of teams’ accounts, improved facilities like Weston Field, and organized to encourage and enable alums and current students to support the school’s athletic endeavors.
In the early 1900s, Gargoyle also worked to facilitate student employment and created various committees to investigate other campus issues. However, “the charge had been brought more than once that Gargoyle was seeking policy change and that legislative functions belonged to an elected, not a self-perpetuating body,” (Gargoyle, 28). These Gargoyle initiatives were eventually taken over by the Student Council and, later, College Council. The most important is the Student Activities Tax (SAT).
In June 1913, the students gained control over the finances of their extra-curricular activities through the Non-Athletic Council. Stephen Phillips ’75 explains, “Another step [in the process of self-government]… came from Amherst. A number of Amherst men managed to slip into the Williams-Amherst football game at Weston Field without paying for their seats. The Record printed on December 4th a letter received from the Amherst Student Council which contained an effort to reimburse the Williams Football Association for its loss in revenue. This generous offer must have impressed Williams men with the integrity of the Amherst Council, if not of the Amherst football fans.”
Thus, after much deliberation by a committee chaired by Phinneas Baxter (who became the valedictorian of his class… Baxter was also Senior Class President, President of the Gargoyle Society and the Student Council, Editor of both the Williams Record and the Gulielmensian, and Phi Beta Kappa), President Garfield and the Trustees approved Baxter’s committee’s plan for the new Student Council on May 7, 1914. The Student Council was officially put into effect by a vote at a College meeting on May 15, 1914.
The Student Activities Council was founded in April 1934 and passed its recommendations onto the Council for approval and was one of the powerful organizations, along with the Inter-Fraternity Council.
1934 was a pivotal year for student government and dealt with abolishing the Chapel and Latin requirements. Specifically, the Student Council was reformed and became the Undergraduate Council to combine the work of the Inter-Fraternity and Student Councils. According to Phillips, “Its powers were those of legislation and enforcement of all extra-curricular activities which were within the control of the undergraduates acting collectively… the Student Activities Council had the power of legislation on all activities of the non-athletic organizations on the campus.”
Structurally, an Executive Committee was also formed and charged with serving “as an intermediary between the student body, faculty, administration, and Trustees and an entity directly responsible for all undergraduate legislation” (Phillips, 51) consisting of four voting members: the President of the Garfield Club (non-fraternity), Presidents of the Undergraduate and Student Councils, and the Editor-In-Chief of the Record; and four non-voting members: the Presidents of each class.
College Council (CC)
In the early 1950s, the Garfield Club disbanded and the fraternity policies on campus were under attack. In addition, with the dissolution of the Garfield Club, representation was based on social affiliations; those who were not members of fraternities were left without representation. The shift to a College Council included the Presidents of the houses rather than the fraternities to ensure better representation of the campus. “The Place of the Social Council in the proposed College Council System was not determined by a desire to ruin the fraternities, for we agree that ‘fraternities have a rightful place on the Williams campus.’ What we do not believe is that they should be given a predominant part of the political activity of the community. The committee does not wish to change the social system with legislation; it does intend to make the political setup on the campus reflect the fact that there are 1,000, rather than 600, Williams students,” (Phillips, 89). This new structure incorporated:
- Class officers from each class
- President of the Student Activities Council and Social Council
- Terms would be on the basis of a calendar rather than an academic year
- The Student Activities Council was given control over all student moneys
- Committees like Honor and Discipline were to be subgroups of College Council
As mentioned before, the thesis from which much of this information was gathered was written in 1975, so the current CC authors writing in 2012 did not readily have access to information on the more recent past of the Council.
All Campus Entertainment (ACE) was founded in 2002 by the student leaders of the six campus social planning groups: Frosh Council, Goodrich Committee, The Log Committee, Social Chairs (a spin-off of the Housing Committee), Student Activities Council, and Swing Club. Originally, ACE was responsible for a portion of the Student Activities Tax– not only for providing all-campus events, but also for co-sponsorship funding. During the 2005-2006 academic year, ACE went into massive debt, which prompted a restructuring of funding allocation. While ACE was still responsible for planning events, it no longer had direct access to the Student Activities Tax. Instead, College Council, particularly the CC Treasurer, oversaw the Tax and used it to allocate money to individual groups (subgroup allocation), and for co-sponsorship events as well as approve and earmark ACE’s budget each year. As of 2012, CC and ACE hope to work together to restore separate yet parallel programming and governance bodies, with the eventual return of SAT Co-Sponsorship dispursement responsibilities to ACE.
After the institution of the Neighborhoods, House Representatives were replaced by one elected At-Large Representative from each Neighborhood, as well as one representative from each of the Neighborhood Governance Boards. The 2012-13 Council voted to change this structure, since it determined that it no longer served the govern geographically. The system changed to a Class Representation system, complemented by Area Vice Presidents in Student Life, Student Organizations, Academic Affairs, and Community and Diversity. An Assistant Treasurer position was also added to aid the CC Treasurer in keeping Council’s books and allocating its $500,000 budget alongside the Finance Committee.