Although Harvard Law School student Matthew P. Gelfand knew he wanted to attend law school before graduating from Brown University in 2008, he did not know he wanted to be president of the Law School’s student body until Friday, March 2—five days before the election. His platform: to eviscerate and rewrite the current student government constitution, and then resign.
On Wednesday, March 7, Gelfand—who is in his third year and set to graduate in May—won an election that had been mired in controversy and gained national publicity. Less than a week after the election, he emerged victorious in a fight against four last-minute proposed amendments that would have hindered his ability to implement his vision. An opinion piece in The Record, the Law School’s student newspaper, called this last ditch effort “the Student Government equivalent of the Midnight Judges Scandal.”
On April 1 Gelfand will assume office and take on the ambitious project of overhauling the student government and rewriting its foundational documents in their entirety for the first time since its creation.
“WIN. FIX. RESIGN.”
Spending most of his time outside of class as managing editor of the Journal of Law and Technology for the past two years and as a board member for the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project, Gelfand said he only considered the presidency after hearing from friends in student government that it was spending an “inordinate” amount of time amending its own constitution and bylaws.
When Gelfand looked at the constitution, he found that not only did it permit such internal editing and restructuring without student input, but also that it did not require that student government meetings be made open to the student body or release their minutes.
“People should not be allowed to hide behind some kind of weird privilege and not take ownership about what they say in student government meetings, which is sort of [a] no brainer for me,” Gelfand said.
Gelfand said he decided to declare his candidacy with the intention of rewriting the constitution to address structural and transparency concerns.
During the four days permitted for campaigning, Gelfand told students that he would rewrite the constitution and have it ratified by the student body before he and his appointed board would resign in time for commencement this May.
Gelfand spread the word about his platform through postering, tabling in Harkness Commons, and a Facebook page bearing his campaign slogan: “Win. Fix. Resign.”
He said that never expected to win, but hoped that his campaign would draw attention to the issues publicized in his candidate statement.
Gelfand’s unexpected victory was the result of a bizarre string of events that included alleged racism, emergency meetings with the Dean of Students, and the involvement of gossip blog Above the Law.
The two other candidates for president—student government representative Daniel B. Vargas, and current vice president Rachna Shah—became embroiled in a heated exchange after Vargas condemned a bylaw passed during Shah’s tenure as vice president that made it more difficult to form groups based on a national, regional, or state identity.
Shah responded to Vargas’s criticism with a 1,600-word letter to her 79 sectionmates that she asked them to distribute widely among the Law School student body. Her letter stated that Vargas’s claims were false and that he misrepresented her when he called her “discriminatory” and “racist.” Vargas claimed that he never used the word “racist.”