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Last spring, former Undergraduate Council President Paul A. Gusmorino ’02 maintained a strong presence on the council even after he had stepped down as president.
He attended meetings and offered advice on legislation.
His successor and former vice president, Sujean S. Lee ’03, welcomed his contributions and solicited his endorsement when she ran.
This year, however, the relationship between president and former president has not been so close.
During his campaign, Rohit Chopra ’04, who prevailed in a landslide election, barely mentioned Lee and did not solicit her endorsement.
“He essentially ran against her in his campaign,” says Ernani J. Dearaujo ’03, a council member who decided at the last minute not to run for the presidency against Lee.
Lee’s diminished role, many say, stems from a growing perception that her term did not live up to its high expectations.
A recent Boston Globe magazine article referred to her tenure as “rocky,” citing her failure last spring to bring a big-name band to Harvard.
Chopra, some say, has been trying to dissociate himself from Lee.
“The very fact that he didn’t seek her public endorsement shows he’s trying to distance himself, and I think he’s been very successful in doing that,” says Fred O. Smith ’04, a council member who thought about running for vice president against Lee’s running mate Anne M. Fernandez ’03.
Lee says she is not surprised at what she calls a political move by Chopra.
“He’s definitely trying to distance himself from my campaign, but it’s politics. I got negative coverage, and when you’re running an election, you want positive coverage,” she says.
While Lee’s tenure was marked with prominent failures, her supporters say she is responsible for laying the groundwork for Chopra’s administration. They say she undertook bold initiatives that were undermined by the administration. And they credit negative perceptions of her administration to her lack of political savvy—not to shortsighted planning.
Lee was most heavily criticized for the failure of the Harvard Concert Commission, which she created, to succeed in bringing a big band to perform during her tenure.
“I figured we just needed to get a bigger name and sell more tickets to finance the act,” Lee said last spring in announcing her plans. She and her fellow planners settled on Outkast at the Bright Hockey Arena.
The administration approved the concert only six weeks before its set date, according to Lee, so the commission had to mobilize quickly to put plans in place.
“Everyone dropped everything in April to work on it as soon as the administration gave the go-ahead—people ignored finals, their other work, etc.—but they did not give us permission to sell tickets yet,” Lee says.
That permission never came, according to Lee. “It was one week before the show, everything was set to go, and we had our final meeting with the administration,” Lee said. “We thought it was in the bag at this point and they basically said, ‘Sorry, it’s a week before the show and tickets have not gone on sale so it’s a huge financial risk.’”
So the concert never came through.
“Everyone had sacrificed so much for this, so we were devastated,” Lee said. “Of course, it was pinned as a failure of mine.”
At the time, Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 blamed the concert planners.
“The students were working on it to the best of their ability, but unfortunately they didn’t get everything done to my satisfaction,” he said.
Lee’s supporters, however, blame the administration for holding up the commission’s planning by not allowing them to sell tickets to the concert far enough in advance.
“The administration put unmovable roadblocks in front of her. This is why her presidency was looked unfavorably upon—because a lot of these ‘failures’ were due to the administration,” says Michael R. Blickstead ’05, current chair of the council’s campus life committee.
“Rohit could not have changed any of these [realities]; she was president during a time when the administration was very difficult.”
Former council member Andrew C. Crocco ’03 says Lee might have been too ambitious for Illingworth and the administration’s liking.
In addition to the concert, Lee also revamped the council’s website to allow meeting minutes to be posted and undergraduates to be surveyed on their choices for the council’s movie nights.
Once the website was finished, she said, the administration claimed it could threaten student’s privacy and ordered it reconstructed, leading to cost overruns on the project and further criticism.
“Basically, with the kind of broader initiatives she had in mind and the bigger projects she had to tackle, they weren’t going to happen in a year and a half,” Crocco says. “Harvard moves too slowly to have major changes.”
A Different Type of President
As council president, Lee was a different breed. Popular on the campus social scene, Lee belonged to the Seneca, a women’s final club. As president, many on council say she adopted a casual leadership style and tried to stay away from political scheming.
Her social-club image, some say, helped undermine her efforts to reform the council and plan ambitious events.
While still vice-president under Gusmorino, Lee took issue with a Crimson article announcing her candidacy for president with the headline “Social Clubbers Preach Girl Power.”
Gusmorino later called the article’s headline “demeaning and unfair.”
“I think the social club might have had an impact on the way she was received,” says Mary Kate Richey ’03, a friend of Lee’s and a former council member. “Usually people who are in the UC don’t tend to be the same as the people who are in social clubs on campus.”
“A lot of people had it out for her before she was even elected,” says Kate B. Greer ’02, a friend of Lee’s from the council and the Seneca. “It’s easy to dislike a pretty girl in a social club, and I think a lot of people stopped listening before she even started.”
Others on council, however, say Lee’s social status did not factor into attacks on her initiatives as president.
“I honestly do not think that her gender or her membership in social groups had anything to do with the criticism,” says council member Vedran Lekic ’04. “Speculation that it did only aggravated the problems,” he says, as it distracted the council’s energy from planning campus events.
Some also say that Lee brought a more informal and less political style of leadership to the council, especially compared with Gusmorino and Chopra.
“She’s less hands-on than Rohit or Paul, meaning that she places a lot of trust in the people under her and she expects them to get their job done,” Blickstead says. “She’s always there to help out but she puts a lot of trust in the people under her. Rohit bugs me a lot more about getting things done than Sujean did. She doesn’t micromanage.”
She also stayed away from politics, council members say.
“One mistake she made is she’s too much of a professional person to go into the nitty gritty of politics and criticize people. She would not bash the administration when she could not get something passed,” says Dearaujo. “Rohit is always trying to criticize the administration and say he’s fighting for the students—very political.”
Gusmorino, meanwhile, was able to use his University Hall contacts to push through his most important initiatives.
While Chopra did not go out of his way to stress his work with Lee during his campaign, he says he credits Lee’s influence with some of the achievements of his term.
After only a few months as president, Chopra meets regularly with some of University Hall’s most powerful administrators and has built a personal friendship with outgoing Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68.
Chopra acknowledges that he learned from Lee’s year in office that administrators often resist ambitious projects.
“I think I have learned that in order to get it done, there needs to be a lot more twisting of arms and cajoling of administrators and planning more in advance to make large student events that administrators are resistant to a reality,” Chopra says.
“I have made it a particular point to have a closer relationship with more senior faculty members because I felt in many ways that when the administration was regulatory with her, we didn’t have the proper connections to have faculty members to tell the administration, ‘Don’t do this to them, that’s wrong,’” Chopra says.
“We were fortunate, I think, because in the past the UC has relied on the administration accepting what we’re asking for, whereas now I’m trying to make it so we don’t have to agree but still can get things done.”
—Staff writer Romina Garber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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