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By Other Means: The Ouster of Ian Nichols

By Jason L. Lurie

On May 8, popularly-elected Undergraduate Council (UC) Vice President Ian W. Nichols ’06 resigned his office. Rumors and speculation have swirled around Nichols’ resignation and the subsequent ascension of former failed vice presidential candidate Clay T. Capp ’06 to the vice presidency by way of an internal election. The record needs to be set straight.

Contrary to the public assertions of several members of the UC’s executive board, Nichols was indeed compelled to leave office. He did not resign because he thought someone else could have done a better job as vice president; Nichols has told me that he was doing everything he was asked and required to do as vice president.

Just scant hours before Nichols ultimately announced his resignation, he was approached by current and former members of the UC’s executive board in an orchestrated attempt to force his resignation. His leadership, attendance, and dedication to the UC were questioned, and threats to embarrass him and his friends were issued. Ten UC representatives, the number required by the UC’s rules, were prepared to submit a petition of impeachment against him. It was under these circumstances that Ian Nichols resigned.

Nichols did not do much as UC vice president. But during my time at Harvard, no vice president has. It falls to the president and Student Affairs Committee (SAC) chair to speak to the administration on behalf of the student body. Organizing concerts and large social events is under the purview of the Harvard Concert Commission and the chair of the Campus Life Committee (CLC). The vice president has no formal responsibilities besides a handful of internal housekeeping matters, like taking attendance at meetings.

In the past, vice presidents have assisted the president on miscellaneous tasks when asked. But due to the Council’s internal politics, Nichols was kept out of the loop by the UC’s current leadership. The bad blood was caused by Nichols’ unique position as a vice president who ran on a different ticket than the president he was elected with.

Many on the UC never quite got over that: the vast majority of UC representatives supported Matthew J. Glazer ’06 and his running mate Clay Capp for office. With Glazer elected president but Capp overlooked in favor of Nichols, the UC leadership eventually began looking for ways to oust Nichols. When they sensed an opportunity, they struck, and were able to drive Nichols from office.

But just because Nichols was gone did not mean that Capp would be elected to succeed him. Glazer and his allies had to act quickly to anoint Clay if he were to be elected.

Opponents stronger than Capp had to be prevented from running against him. Capp has no accomplishments on the UC to speak of, so this effectively required Capp to run unopposed. Christina L. Adams ’06 (former CLC chair), Aaron D. Chadbourne ’06 (current SAC chair), Samita A. Mannapperuma ’06 (former vice presidential candidate and current Ivy Council head delegate), S. Faraz Munaim ’06 (current UC treasurer), Lauren P.S. Epstein ’07 (current CLC chair), John S. Haddock ’07 (current SAC vice chair), E.E. Keenan ’07 (current UC parliamentarian) and Matthew R. Greenfield ’08 (current UC secretary), among others, were strongly discouraged from running by various means; all have accomplished far more on the UC than Capp. At least one possible opponent of Capp’s received the implied threat that a potential job would be withheld after graduation if that person ran against Capp. Others had their future Council ambitions threatened. I am sure other techniques were also used, not that they were needed; at least a few possible opponents simply decided that they wanted no part in this duplicitous administration.

I was the only person willing to run against Capp. While I have a storied UC resumé, I am a graduating senior. My only campaign promise was that if elected I would do nothing before I leave office upon graduation. A new vice president would then be selected by the UC or by special popular election next year.

At the election—held during reading period, at an inconvenient time of day—I lost to Capp by a vote of 22-20. I am not so vain to think that all those 20 votes were cast because of some characteristic I possess; surely some were protests against the duplicitous actions of the current administration. But I am just as certain that numerous votes were cast for Capp simply so that there would be someone—anyone—serving as vice president over the summer.

What Glazer and his allies were unable to achieve at the ballot box, they were able to accomplish through dirty politics, resorting to shady backdoor political maneuvers to force out a popularly elected official, apparently just because they did not want to work with him—and some even resorted to threats.

If I were Capp, I would be embarrassed to serve under these circumstances. I would resign and demand that a campus-wide election be held in the fall to elect a replacement vice president. This is the only way to ensure that the UC maintains the legitimacy that it has built up over years of service to the student body after this anti-democratic coup.

Carl von Clausewitz once famously wrote: “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” But what of organizations, like the Undergraduate Council, which lack the ability to wage war? Even the UC, it seems, is capable of massacres.

Jason Lurie ’05, a chemistry concentrator in Cabot House, is a member of the Undergraduate Council.

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