The Harvard Undergraduate Council said goodbye to a beloved leader this year—though not entirely.
Paul A. Gusmorino ’02, widely credited with revolutionizing the council, not only remained a presence at virtually every council meeting, but also saw former Vice President Sujean S. Lee ’03 take the helm of the council with a pledge to continue the work he began.
After their election in December, Lee and council Vice President Anne M. Fernandez ’03 became the first successful all-female ticket since the student body began directly electing council leaders.
Their election broke a recent trend of less-than-smooth transfers of power over the past couple years. Gusmorino defeated long-time rival Stephen N. Smith ’02 in the previous election without the support of the sitting president, Fentrice D. Driskell ’01.
And Driskell had been elected in 1999 despite strong opposition from council leaders—and her presidency was mired in scandal after council members impeached and tried to remove from office her vice president, John A. Burton ’01.
This year, however, Lee and Fernandez enjoyed broad—if not necessarily enthusiastic—support from all wings of the council and campus at large.
They also enjoyed the support of another important constituent, new University President Lawrence H. Summers, who expressed unprecedented interest in the council as part of his attempt to be a presence in undergraduate life.
“He’s really reaching out to students in a stronger way than was done before,” Gusmorino said.
Summers put his money where his mouth was, offering to contribute considerable funds to this April’s installment of the council’s annual spring festival, Springfest.
With Summers’ help, the council brought a headlining band to what was the best-attended Springfest ever, though the Lee-led Harvard Concert Commission (HCC) failed in its attempts to bring three bands to campus.
Although Lee has largely continued the student service orientation of her predecessor, she has encouraged the council to address larger campus-wide issues.
A Seamless Transition
Lee ascended to the council’s top position after one of the most lopsided presidential elections in recent memory.
Lee won by a landslide, garnering over twice as many votes as her nearest opponent, Lauren E. Bonner ’04.
Lee and Fernandez were supported by Gusmorino, and their campaign was run by the same council regulars who orchestrated Gusmorino’s victory in December 2000.
Lee pledged to continue Gusmorino’s focus on student services, such as extending party hours and universal keycard access in the Houses—and she pushed ahead with expanded council-sponsored shuttle service to New York City and Logan Airport and a new committee to organize social events for first-years.
Lee also took advantage of Gusmorino’s strong ties with University officials, collaborating on many occasions with administrators.
At times, she appeared to take to an extreme the philosophy of council leaders like Gusmorino and former President Noah Z. Seton ’00 that it is necessary to win the trust of and maintain friendly relations with administrators in order to make policy changes that will benefit students.
For instance, Lee opened the last council speech she made this semester by thanking Summers before anyone else.
“First I just wanted to thank the administration [even though] they can’t really hear us,” she said.
The council’s second meeting of the semester featured Summers as its special guest, and the president’s offer to co-host Springfest led to several meetings between the staff of his office and council members.
While Lee has publicly appealed to the administration, much of the behind-the-scenes work was left to student-faculty committees, where students helped to dramatically change phone charges for upcoming years, reduce requirements in the Core Curriculum and streamline study-abroad procedures.
This work was largely done by members of the council’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC), a committee on which Lee—unlike predecessors Gusmorino and Seton—never served.
The committee was chaired this year by Rohit Chopra ’04, who emerged as a major figure on campus, sitting on multiple student-faculty committees and even a city-wide committee to redesign Harvard Square.
Chopra seems to be the heir apparent to the presidency in 2003 just as Lee was this year, though he may face a challenge from other council members, including fellow SAC member Shira S. Simon ’04.
Among Chopra-led initiatives was the creation of a student committee that formally offered advice to Summers on his selection of a replacement for outgoing Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles—a move that was applauded by many council members.
“It shows that the administration is recognizing the student voice in an organized fashion in a way it hasn’t before,” said council member Jessica R. Stannard-Friel ’04.
Live at Harvard
While Lee’s overtures to administrators were striking, her tenure on the council will likely be marked most by her efforts to put Harvard on the live music map, a feat she has attempted this year with mixed results.
Lee is a founding member of the HCC, which promised three concerts this year, including at least one at a large venue. But it failed in its efforts to bring two professional bands to Harvard this year in addition to the fall’s Dispatch concert.
Just four days before a concert with Wyclef Jean and Jurassic 5 was to occur in the Bright Hockey Center, Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 cancelled the event, concerned the HCC would not be able to sell the 3,000 tickets necessary to fill the venue.
While University Hall took its share of flak for the aborted show, many council members and observers felt the student leadership deserved blame.
“They were not thinking out things to the extent that they should be thought out,” said council Treasurer Eric J. Powell ’04. “Trying to plan a 50 or 60-thousand dollar concert the week of the concert is not the way you plan something.”
The HCC had previously cancelled another concert with the hip-hop band OutKast, whose fees were purportedly out of the HCC’s price range.
The council had allocated more than $10,000 to the HCC for the two concerts that never took place—an action that left some council members regretting their decision and questioning the organization of Lee’s pet project.
“There needs to be a little more transparency in their system,” said Finance Committee Chair Gregory R. Friedman ’04.
But while Lee came up short with HCC projects, she and the council did succeed in drawing unprecedented crowds—about 7,000 students, faculty, staff and their families—to Springfest this April.
While last year’s Springfest featured only student bands, the council secured the services of headliner The Verve Pipe for this year’s affair.
Springfest’s massive proportions and slick advertising were largely due to the council’s co-sponsorship with Summers, whose office footed three-quarters of the $80,000 bill in exchange for the assurances that all members of the Harvard community—not just undergraduates—would be invited and the day’s attractions would be tailored to families as well as students.
Though University officials played a major role in planning the formerly student-only affair, the event was heralded as a major success for the council.
In the Money
The 2001-02 council was marked by a change that transcended the shift in leadership from Gusmorino to Lee and was perhaps just as significant—a 75 percent increase in the termbill fee students paid to the council.
After a December 1999 referendum to raise the termbill fee narrowly failed to gain a majority of student support, council leaders convinced Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and the Faculty to unilaterally raise the fee from $20 to $35.
The change left the council with a budget of over $220,000 that the council channeled into student groups in unprecedented amounts.
Nearly $150,000 was awarded to student groups in year-long, semester and project-based grants that left only $50 or $60 in funds rolling over to next year, Powell estimates.
In the past, Powell said, the council’s budget would end with nearly $20,000 in rollover funds.
The council’s Finance Committee also overhauled the process by which it distributes grant money. Effective next fall, the council will eliminate project-based grants and create two rounds for grant proposals in the fall and spring to avoid the “double funding” that occurred in the past, according to Powell.
“You could gotten thousands of dollars by just applying for a semester [grant] and multiple project [grants],” he said. “It just made a lot of sense to streamline the process.”
Despite Lee’s pledges to pick up where Gusmorino left off, she has distinguished herself from her predecessor in several ways.
Lee made statements at the beginning of her tenure indicating that she hoped to represent the College’s student body on all sorts of issues—ideological as well as practical.
“I want involvement of the UC in issues that are political or controversial,” Lee said at her first council meeting as president in February.
Her statements led some council members to worry that she would distract attention from providing student services.
Lee’s tenure, however, has seen the council address few—though significant—points of controversy.
A bill presented by Brian R. Smith ’02 encouraged professors who teach subjects relevant to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) curriculum to meet with the military officers who determine whether courses can fulfill cadets’ requirements.
The bill, which passed by a 19-12 margin, was attacked by some members as an “underhanded” way to support ROTC, an organization whose “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy discriminates against gays and lesbians and thus is not officially recognized by Harvard.
Apart from her willingness to tackle what she calls “the most pressing, most controversial issues facing students,” Lee presented a very different persona from Gusmorino, with her hands-off leadership and a hip style.
Lee and Fernandez are both members of women’s social clubs, and Lee once advertised a club party during a council meeting. Lee’s leadership contrasts with that of the famously goofy Gusmorino—something she said may benefit the council.
“We’re perceived as uncool and unconnected by the student body,” she said.
And while Gusmorino held the reins of the council firmly, micromanaging everything, Lee prefered to delegate responsibility to committee chairs.
“It was a more top-down feel under Paul,” said long-time council member Justin A. Barkley ’02.
Some council members say Lee’s laid-back leadership makes her seem accessible to all council members.
“In some ways she has a quieter leadership style,” Stannard-Friel said. “People see Sujean as a friend. She’s a bit more, I think, on your level.”
Lee’s council meetings, however, did not always run smoothly, as Lee often struggled with the details of parliamentary procedure. During pre-frosh weekend in April, the prospective members of the Class of 2006 who attended the council’s weekly meeting left early, citing the meeting’s disorganization.
Yet council members insist that Lee’s term has been successful, though she has not received the accolades heaped on Gusmorino for transforming the council.
“Success after success is not a story,” Barkley says. “I think that Sujean’s biggest problem...is simply that she followed someone that had such a huge success.”
—Staff writer Claire A. Pasternack can be reached at email@example.com.