Beyond the Campaign Rhetoric

An important distinction has been lost in this campaign: that between our feelings about the state of our campus and our feelings about the students who work day-in and day-out to try to improve it. My fear in this election is that out of dissatisfaction with aspects of Harvard—and I can definitely identify with that—we will unwittingly defeat the very candidates who can and will make Harvard feel more like our home. Worse yet, I fear we might be swayed by enticing but divisive rhetoric about “résumé-builders” and “council insiders” that is nothing more than political posturing.

Last spring, serving on the Allston Committee together, Undergraduate Council presidential candidate Matthew J. Glazer ’06 and I were able to get a full section of the planning report devoted to a student center and a strong recommendation that under no circumstances should the campus be divided between the River, Allston and the Quad. This year, there will be many more specific recommendations and decisions coming from the seven curricular review committees and the Allston planning process. No other ticket can impact these processes to the extent that Matt and vice presidential candidate Clay T. Capp ’06 will.

The Tracy “Ty” Moore II ’06-Ian W. Nichols ’06 campaign would have you believe that this election is a referendum on whether or not you are satisfied with the Harvard experience. Do not be fooled. All three of the tickets are equally dissatisfied with Harvard, but Matt and Clay actually understand how to deliver on a positive platform.

In my four years on the council, I have encountered no one as hard-working and thoughtful as Matt Glazer. I cannot tell you how many times I have talked to him at four a.m. while he was prepping for student-faculty committees or writing legislation for the council. He has the unending support of a great majority of council members, because, having watched him in action, they trust his leadership. He has convinced deans, mayors and House masters of the need for blue-light phones in Cambridge Common, improved sections and pushed through universal keycard access. Importantly, he has wisely chosen a running mate who complements him extremely well.

Clay Capp would make an exceptional vice president. He has experience on two of the council’s three committees, and he is our current treasurer. This semester he took initiative in revamping the council’s finances and the position of treasurer to ensure that we are prepared to handle even more money next semester. He is also a much-loved member of the Kirkland House community who understands the importance of creating social life outside of final clubs.

Moreover, this team’s humility and lack of political grandstanding belies their confidence and resolve, which will shine through in high-pressure situations.

Before deciding whom to elect, it is important to consider what these jobs entail. They are not easy. They demand organization, time, persistence, energy and vision—every day, for an entire year. They involve representing the student body to administrators, faculty and the press. They offer limited time for learning on the job and there is rarely forgiveness for mistakes, nor should there be. Finally, they require knowledge of the decision-making bodies on campus and the history of each issue, as well as a willingness to listen. No, it is not “rocket science,” but it does require many of the specific skills and talents that Matt and Clay possess.

Most important, being the council’s executive requires strong leadership. Matt and Clay have the overwhelming respect of their peers on the council, offer the campus an honest assessment of the council’s weaknesses and know how to make tough decisions. Last year, when student groups and House Committees faced a major reduction in grant money, Matt and Clay led the charge to give students a choice to raise the activities fee. This was not an entirely popular move within the council, but Matt and Clay appreciated that students needed to know our financial reality and have a choice about what this year would look like. Regardless of how you voted on that issue, Matt and Clay must be commended for boldly facing our financial situation.

Last year, Mike and I laid out a comprehensive vision for the campus. We were careful to remind everyone that even if we delivered on many of our goals—2 a.m. party hours, universal keycard access, improved safety measures and better concerts—we would leave plenty undone. We learned that this is the inevitable nature of politics, especially in an environment where you hold few bargaining chips. The deans openly agree that the council represents students’ views, so “increased legitimacy” is no panacea for our problems. There is no silver bullet to navigating Harvard’s administrative power structure.

Many students are justifiably unhappy with life at Harvard. But voting for the ticket that complains the loudest or claims to have found that silver bullet is not the best way to ensure change. Matt Glazer and Clay Capp have an incredible record of going to bat for students with the administration and producing real results for their effort. They are the ticket that balances advocacy expertise with the financial competency we lacked last semester. They have wisely prioritized opening up the council, engaging students through innovative new approaches and uniting the undergraduate community. Based on my experience as president, I passionately believe that no ticket is better poised to deliver on the students’ platform.

Matthew W. Mahan ’05 is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House. He is the president of the Undergraduate Council.