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The Undergraduate Council overwhelmingly approved a grant to the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF) at its meeting last night, ending months of controversy over whether the group’s constitution violates the council’s non-discrimination policy.
The council also passed its third package of applications under this semester’s new rolling grant system but defeated an amendment that would have increased allocations to compensate for an unexpected paucity of requests.
The passage of the HRCF grant was spurred by the College’s decision to approve the group’s constitution and reaffirm its status as a recognized student organization, after a vote of the Committee on College Life (CCL) before spring break.
The council postponed the grant last November after representative Jason L. Lurie ’05 accused the group of discrimination on the basis of religion.
The HRCF constitution stated that group officers “must subscribe without reserve” to the basic tenets of Christianity.
Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 began an investigation into HRCF’s membership and leadership policies after the issue was raised by the council.
In an apparent about-face, the College’s approval of the constitution came after only minor alterations.
Though the non-discriminatory status of its general membership requirements has been clarified, the section requiring officers’ belief in Christianity remains.
In December, Illingworth told The Crimson that he was working with HRCF members “to develop constitutional changes which would bring them into compliance.”
Illingworth was unavailable for comment last night, but Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 said the administration “felt that religious organizations should have the ability to select their own leaders.”
Council members saw College affirmation of the organization as a green light to approve the embattled grant.
Without any debate, the council passed the grant by a roll-call vote of 31-5-5.
“Many groups discriminate based on how they select officers and how they select members,” Chopra said after the vote. “Religious groups do provide a valuable service to students. How we change their constitution will not change how these groups operate.”
Chopra said that given CCL’s decision, awarding the grant was the right thing to do.
Lurie argued that, the College’s decision aside, HRCF is still discriminatory in its leadership requirements.
Lurie said approving the grant might cost the council its tax-exempt status, a claim which Chopra and several other council members dismissed as baseless.
HRCF officers declined to comment last night.
In other business, the council considered a large batch of new grants from its Finance Committee (FiCom).
FiCom Chair Joshua A. Barro ’05 and Vice Chair Jonathan D. Einkauf ’06 presented a sweeping amendment that would have selectively increased grants to respond to what they said was an unexpectedly small number of grant requests.
The amendment would have increased the amount of money given under the package by about $4000.
Barro and Einkauf said the council’s surplus in grant money should be redistributed to student groups.
However, FiCom members and other representatives said the amendment demonstrated a usurpation of power by Barro and Einkauf.
“Now, instead of FiCom giving grants, we have Josh and John giving grants, and I don’t think that is Josh and John’s job,” said FiCom member Thomas J. Mucha ’03.
The amendment was defeated by an 18-20 roll-call vote. Several members were apparently swayed by the fact that FiCom members voted against it.
An effort to commit the batch of grants back to FiCom for further consideration was defeated; the council passed the package unamended.
Afterward, Barro and Einkauf maintained that their proposal was intended to address the surplus in grant money and was not intended to undermine FiCom’s role.
Einkauf said that at the FiCom meeting last week, the committee was “very enthusiastic to leave,” ending the meeting before new business could be considered.
Barro said the council is “likely to end up with tens of thousands of dollars rolling over to next year.”
He said student groups submitting applications in coming weeks will probably find a disproportionately large amount of money coming their way.
“People should apply. There’s a big windfall awaiting,” Barro said.
Council Treasurer Justin R. Chapa ’05 said any surplus remaining in the council’s account at the end of the year will be rolled over to next year.
Chopra said the novelty of the council’s rolling grant system, which was implemented for the first time this semester, explains the surplus, and added that “a year of data” will smooth the process.
Chapa said that around $31,000 has been allocated to groups under the new system, but that he has written only eighteen checks.
He said groups might not be aware that they before they can receive approved funding, they must submit a review of their completed projects.
—Staff writer William B. Higgins can be reached at email@example.com.
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