Revising the constitution

My name is Drew Lane. I majored in economics at Colgate University, and I currently work in finance in New York City.


When I returned to Colgate as a senior, I was faced with a monumental task: as chair of the Constitutional Revision Committee, I was charged with bringing together the student body to re-write the student constitution for the first time in 20 years. I feared that I would drown in a sea of Roberts Rules and constitutional theory.

Fortunately for me, I met Dennis Donovan, national organizer for Public Achievement, who served as a consultant to our committee. Mr. Donovan taught me some of the most valuable lessons in my life. He taught me the differences between selflessness, selfishness and self-interest, and that progress is made by working with people. He called all of this Public Achievement.

Over the course of that fall semester, we wrote a rough draft of a new student constitution. We thoroughly debated every nuance of every point, and conducted countless meetings with professors, deans and student leaders. Before introducing* *the rough draft to the Student Senate for debate in the spring, I made it very clear to the student Senate that they had the responsibility to create the best student constitution for Colgate, not the best student constitution in theory. When acrimonious arguing transformed into productive discussions on how to engage students and address student apathy, I was heartened that I was able to lead this indifferent, disjointed and dysfunctional group in a unified effort of rebirth. I had created something more than a bunch of writing. I had helped construct a document that required students to take ownership and responsibility.

How was this possible? Because I learned how to identify and align peoples' self-interests. By conducting "one-on-one" conversations, I could determine what makes someone tick. By learning to ask what people like and do not like, and by getting them to focus not on what they thought about others but how they felt about issues, I could work better with them. I did not need to make people understand that their interests were selfish or selfless, or how their interests were different. I only needed to facilitate the conversation so that people could recognize others' self-interest, and find agreement where those self-interests overlapped.

Leading the Constitutional Revision Committee was one of the most arduous projects of my life. When my friends asked me why I worked so hard my senior year when I could have spent more time living it up, I told them I was learning something invaluable. I sincerely believe I learned more as the chair of the Constitutional Committee than in any classroom at Colgate. I did not use my knowledge of constitutional theory to write a student constitution. I lived this experience, and learned by doing.

There is a phrase, "Success is not a destination. It is a journey." I believe the same applies to the knowledge and skills I acquired during this process.

Download this page for more about self-interest - how it is different from selfishness and selflessness, and how it is used in doing public work.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs