Reflecting on Semester, UC Leaders Acknowledge Better Relationship with Students Has Not Always Meant Results

Plastic sword sheathed and military-style uniform put away for the summer, Undergraduate Council President Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 joined Vice President Sietse K. Goffard ’15 Thursday in reflecting optimistically on the role the Council has played in advocating student concerns this semester, even as they conceded that much of what they have been seeking has yet to come to fruition.

Mayopoulos and Goffard, a pair that emerged from a tumultuous Fall election that included an unprecedented victory of a then “joke” ticket and a reversed plan of resignation, said there was a need for change as soon as they entered office in December.

“There was consensus on campus that there was a time for change, and I think we brought the change,” Mayopoulos said in an interview Thursday in Ticknor Lounge.

While Mayopoulos and Goffard were hesitant to characterize the degree of relevance of prior UC administrations to student life, they said the spring semester was one of “increased student voice” and visibility for the Council.

One of the most public efforts by the administration to date, the campaign to secure another $250,000 in funding for student groups, led to a large rally outside Massachusetts Hall and figured prominently in the UC leaders’ meetings with deans in the Office of Student Life, Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Michael D. Smith, and University President Drew G. Faust. Indeed, Goffard said that  he and Mayopoulos have prioritized the issue more so than past leaders of the Council.

Despite the efforts, the UC has yet to secure any additional funding from the University.

While Mayopoulos acknowledged that the “concrete benefits” of the campaign have yet to be seen, he attributed delays to administrator’s desires to gather more data on the matter and weigh the concerns of undergraduates against other goals before deciding where to allocate resources.

Although Pfister and Smith have expressed support for increasing the UC’s year budget, which has hovered around $500,000 for the last six years, Goffard and Mayopoulos said they have been told by various administrators that the FAS is facing a budget deficit, meaning that an increase is unlikely.

“It is a little bit disconcerting when we identify a problem that is really important for students and really isn’t very expensive for Harvard to fix, and we’re essentially set back by these administrative bars,” Mayopoulos said.

Even so, Mayopoulos said that, with the OSL working on the issue, he is confident that a concrete decision will be made next year regarding the UC’s requests.

Reflecting on the Council’s work over the past semester, Mayopoulos and Goffard spoke highly of the relationship they were able to foster with students through their Operation Ghost Protocol initiative and regular emails to undergraduates.

Students seem “more aware” of what the Council is doing, Goffard added.

Still, the pair openly conceded particular difficulties they have had in actually implementing their goals, pointing to the rollout of their new website, which was both slow and months behind schedule when it launched in April.

On the whole,  Mayopoulos and Goffard positively characterized their first semester in office, citing advocacy efforts for gender neutral housing and the recently approved honor code as areas where their support was helpful. They also mentioned Student Life Committee projects like the Freshman Health Project, as well as the Student Initiative Committee’s sponsorship of several student start-ups.

Next semester, Mayopoulos and Goffard said they will continue emphasizing  the funding discussion, while taking advantage of opportunities to include student opinion on important issues.

Referring to a sexual assault policy working group convened in May 2013 by way of example,  Mayopoulos said “there should never be a situation where a policy that affects every undergrad is decided and not one undergraduate serves on it.”

—Staff writer Noah J. Delwiche can be reached at noah.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ndelwiche.

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