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Berries Sour Debate Over UC Funding

Although often sweet, berries proved more tart at the Undergraduate Council’s Sunday meeting, when the small fruits stirred a large debate over responsible funding and budgetary priorities.

On Sunday, Freshman Class Committee Treasurer Scott Xiao ’19 introduced legislation to appropriate $850 to Harvard University Dining Services for a “Berry Brain Break” on Tuesday, as part of this week’s Freshman Health Project. The legislation proposed funding an assortment of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries to feed about 400 students.

“Our constituents say they want to see berries at our enhanced brain break,” Xiao said.

When the berry legislation first went before the Freshman Class Committee, eight voted to pass it and four opposed it. That split vote, it seemed, predicted a more contentious debate at the Council’s general meeting.

Several representatives argued that given the Freshman Class Committee’s $10,000 budget, spending close to 10 percent of annual funds on berries for a single night would be a misuse of Council funds. Oak Yard representative Olu Oisaghie ’19 called such an allotment “irresponsible.”

Leverett House representative Jullian A. Duran ’18 said “there are definitely other foods that are healthy that don’t cost $850.”

“This didn’t feel like the best appropriation of money,” Oak Yard representative Nicholas D. Boucher ’19 said at the meeting, explaining his opposition to the berry bill when the Freshman Class Committee debated it. “In my mind, it felt like we could spend money in different ways… that might be slightly more meaningful.”

Other representatives criticized the Council’s tendency to pass legislation as a general body without careful scrutiny.

“A lot of times we come here, and it’s just ‘unanimous consent,’ we pass things pretty quickly. But this is quite a large portion of our spending, and I want to make sure it gets taken seriously,” Crimson Yard representative Jack Kelley ’19 said.

But for representatives who supported the legislation, the berries could be a rare treat for freshmen who craved the fruits.

Some representatives pointed to survey results that indicated that berries were popular among freshmen and argued that the committee still had close to $2,000 in its budget remaining for the rest of the school year.

Others, however, were not sold on the alleged popularity of berries.

“I hear people talking about how a lot of their constituents are so excited to have berries at brain break. I’m not sure we have the same constituents,” Oisaghie said.

Still other representatives debated the definition of berries and their availability at brain break.

Winthrop House representative Vimal S. Konduri ’17, a Crimson news editor, said that “technically, there are berries at every brain break, because botanically, bananas are berries.”

After a lengthy debate, the Council ultimately voted to pass the bill. Of the 34 representatives in attendance, 24 voted in favor of the legislation, while five opposed it and five abstained.

“Hundreds of people will have berries that they otherwise wouldn’t have had,” Freshman Class Committee Chair Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18 said before the vote.

Later in the meeting, the UC continued debate over responsible funding while discussing finances for the third grants pack under the Council’s new “Grant for an Open Harvard College.”

This week’s grants pack proved particularly contentious, as former UC Parliamentarian Jacob R. Steinberg-Otter ’16 criticized the Council’s Executive Board for introducing the legislation without going through a committee first. Under the UC’s constitution, legislation must be proposed by a committee first before reaching the whole Council for a vote.

Steinberg-Otter argued that “trying to circumvent the committee process” prevents legislation from receiving scrutiny and input from Council members outside of the Executive Board. Boucher and Duran expressed similar sentiments.

“I just don’t know if due diligence is really being done,” Duran said.

UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17 defended the legislation, citing UC precedent and noting that the Council had previously voted to place the grant under the Executive Board’s purview. Banks also suggested that a constitutional amendment to allow the Executive Board to introduce legislation may be forthcoming.

Steinberg-Otter also raised concerns with the Executive Board’s decision not to fund the “Senior Outdoor Reflection Trips,” a series of camping trips designed to allow senior to reflect on their undergraduate experiences. The program applied for the new UC grant that provides funding for projects that focus on mental health, social spaces, race relations, or sexual assault and harassment.

According to the meeting agenda, the project was denied funding because the Executive Board did not “think it addresses the compelling interests because these students are leaving campus.” Banks also said the organization failed to provide a clear budget or curriculum for the project.

Although Steinberg-Otter introduced an amendment to allocate $3,000 in funding to the project, the amendment failed to pass with nine votes in favor and 19 against, and seven abstentions. Banks said the Executive Board may reconsider the organization’s request for funding in next week’s grants pack.

Ultimately, the Council voted to pass the $13,975 grants pack through the Open Harvard College grant, in addition to $10,785 in regular Finance Committee grants to student organizations.

—Staff writer Brian P. Yu can be reached at brian.yu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianyu28.

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