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Scandal Before Service

* Harvard's student leaders are a laughing stock.

By Stephen E. Frank

Small wonder nobody wants to serve on Harvard's student government. If these guys constitute our nation's next generation of political leaders, then our nation is in serious trouble.

That's what I was left to think Wednesday night, after serving on a panel that questioned the candidates for Undergraduate Council president and vice president. With few exceptions, the candidates comprised a bunch of hooligans. They scoffed at ethical improprieties, they laughed off scandals, they joked scornfully about their responsibilities as public servants. In short, I was embarrassed to attend the same school they do.

Most egregious of all, perhaps, was Randy Fine '96, a candidate for vice president. Fine has made campus headlines since his freshman year. He was at one point alleged to have paid the Republican Club membership fees for a few of his friends so they would be able to vote for him in a failed attempt to win a club office. Nothing was ever proven, and the matter faded from discussion. At another point, he used the Undergraduate Council's name to win a federal grant for himself, without telling the council of his actions.

I asked Fine about the grant Wednesday night. He reacted with contempt, pointing out that I had the amount of the grant wrong (I thought it was for $8,000; it was actually for $24,000). He sought to blame The Crimson for misreporting details of the story. And he refused to acknowledge that he had done something wrong. (What exactly happened to the $24,000 is still not clear. Fine admitted Wednesday that he spent it; he didn't say how.)

Almost as bad was current vice president Josh Liston '95, who is running for the council presidency. Liston, whose position has flip-flopped on virtually every issue of substance facing the council, arrogantly proclaimed that he was "proud" of his record as a council member and executive. He didn't regret anything, he said, and he had nothing for which to apologize.

That struck me as a bit curious. After all, more than half of his fellow council members last year voted to censure Liston for failing to perform his duties as vice president, though that motion was set aside because censuring requires a supermajority of two-thirds. He was very nearly impeached. A campus-wide referendum he administered was invalidated because he botched it.

And here was Liston, cracking sarcastic jokes, claiming he was "proud" of his actions.

For sheer comic relief, the best performance of the evening was turned in by an unknown: Jason Schmitt '98, a freshman running for the council's presidency. Schmitt announced that he could offer the change the council needs, that he could restore it to respectability. He even presented a three-part platform (pretty good for someone who's barely been at Harvard a month).

For Schmitt, getting up there to debate the future of student government at Harvard took a lot of chutzpah (or ignorance). Deep down, I was almost rooting for the guy. Too bad he froze, like a deer in the headlights, when my fellow panelist Josh Feltman '95 asked him some specific questions about life at Harvard.

Sure, the night had its entertaining moments. But that's not the point. It's clear that, unless a miracle happens, little is going to change about the Undergraduate Council this year, and probably for some time to come. These guys don't really want to change, and they have no interest in serving their constituents. They're more interested in having fun and padding their resumes.

If they only realized that we're not laughing with them. We're laughing at them.

Stephen E. Frank's column appears on alternate Fridays.

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