One of the major problems which underlay the recently concluded dispute over the Senior Class Marshal election is one that deserves considerable thought during the coming months. Since the advent of the House system in the early 1930's, College-wide elections have become increasingly anachronistic. With Harvard broken down into small, 400-man compartments it is very difficult to attach much more significance to a class election than one would to a contest to see which undergraduate has managed to get his name before the most students during his four years at Harvard.
Back at the beginning of the century, when classes numbered only about 400 students, it was possible for an undergraduate to know at least a little bit about each person in his class, and in those days a class-wide election could have considerable meaning. As things stand at present, although one may regret the growth of the College into such a large, impersonal body, one can scarcely deny that the election of a symbolic leader for a Harvard Class is a rather meaningless proposition.
The indignation and surprise which was voiced after the last Senior Class election is indicative of a problem which can only increase as time goes on. The vast majority of undergraduates come to know other students mainly through House contacts, and it is only natural that class-wide elections in which an invariably minority candidate becomes the First, Second or Third Marshal will engender more than a little bad feeling.
It would, of course, be possible to change existing procedure, so that a Class would at least be assured of not electing a candidate (or candidates) for whom there was a widespread antipathy. As the election set-up stands now, a man can be elected with only about 200 votes, while at the same time 900 other voters in the class might distinctly not want to have this man in office. This situation could be ameliorated considerably by having a preliminary election in which six or eight leaders are chosen who will then participate in a run-off election to determine the final three Marshals. Such a system would, by eliminating the large number of favorite-entry candidates, assure the winner of having at least the passive support of a large percentage of the class. Presumably such an election would be run by an impartial body chosen from the individual House committees or by the Deans.
However, this new and somewhat more involved procedure would seem to be unnecessary. With all due respect for the oft-mentioned Harvard tradition, it would probably be better to do away with the office of Class Marshal altogether. At present, the Marshals are merely figureheads of the Senior Class during its spring term in College. The members of the Permanent Class Committee (one from each House) together with the Marshals draw up a Class Constitution which outlines the leadership of the Class after graduation. It is quite possible, and indeed often the case, that the Marshals will never serve in any capacity but as members of the governing committee, with the First Marshal acting as chairman. It is the Class Secretary, Treasurer and Agents appointed by the Committee in conjunction with the Alumni office, who actually run the Class organization after graduation.
In light of these facts, it would be much more reasonable to let the source of Class government come solely from the Houses, each House having one man on the Permanent Committee, and eliminate the Marshals entirely. The Committee members as a body can lead the Commencement parade, and an acting chairman can be appointed by the Committee itself.
This would leave Class elections in the area to which, under the ever-growing House system, they rightfully belong. On the House level, students can select a representative with a much clearer knowledge of whom they are voting for than will ever again be possible at the Class-wide level. Since the actual responsibility of the Marshals is quite small, and since the House system has changed the make-up of the "old Harvard" to a very considerable degree, it would seem best to remove the anachronism of Class Marshals in favor of a purely House-elected body.