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Friends sometimes approach me and ask: “Jason, how do you do it?” I’m forced to pause; which of my many outstanding accomplishments are they referring to? Surely it’s the ease with which I charm the ladies or perhaps my legendary moves beneath the spinning discotheque ball?
They sense my hesitation and cut in with a clarification: “Jason, how do you win UC elections? And more importantly, how can I?” Oh. Well, I do know a thing or two about that as well.
As my time at Harvard comes to a close, I would hate for the tried-and-true methods I’ve discovered for winning Undergraduate Council (UC) races to fade into the ether. So just mix-and-match these suggestions and cruise on to electoral triumph!
(NB: These aren’t solely my techniques; I haven’t used many of them. But I have seen firsthand how raising these simple points can lead to big results in both the general and presidential election cycles.)
1) Concerts. North Mississippi All-Stars. Toussaint and the China Band. Seeking Homer. What do they all have in common? They’re all bands that the UC and its poorly-run subsidiary, the Harvard Concert Commission, have brought to Harvard. What else do they have in common? The UC spent too much money on them and only a tiny proportion of the student body went to see them.
Make better concerts a cornerstone of your candidacy. Don’t be too specific, though; you don’t want to turn voters off by suggesting particular bands that they happen not to care for.
2) Dining halls. At Harvard, we are faced with an ironic situation: the food in the dining halls is not very good, but we still complain that dining hall hours are too short. Perhaps this is caused by the fact that Harvard requires every student living in a dorm to purchase a full meal plan, so everyone feels like they’re getting cheated when they can’t eat the food they wouldn’t want to eat anyway.
Call for improvements at Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS). Unfortunately, they won’t happen. HUDS wants nothing more than to serve students as best as they can, but their hands are tied by budgetary constraints stemming from having to operate 13 dining halls. Unless Harvard makes monetary concessions that it has no intention of making, any one improvement action by HUDS (such as increasing dining hall hours) will lead to an equally costed deterioration in some other HUDS service (such as a loss of certain grill items).
Luckily, your constituents don’t know this.
3) Unrealistic promises. No more homework! Commencement before June! Professors who care about teaching undergraduates! Sure, it won’t happen. But that means that you can run on it for multiple years!
4) More money for student groups. Just about everyone at Harvard is in a student group, and nearly all are underfunded to one degree or another. The UC is Harvard’s premier grant giving body for undergraduate organizations, so promising more money to student groups is a great way to get elected. And don’t worry, you won’t have to follow through on it; you can campaign for more funding for student groups and then vote (like most of your UC colleagues) for more money instead for the UC’s sure-to-fail events—like this year’s “Havana on the Harbor” pseudo-booze cruise ($2,350) and the Springfest “Afterparty” ($16,000).
While we’re on the subject of student group funding, I would add that no one has ever been turned out of office for voting for more money for House Committees. Just something to think about after you’re elected.
5) Gym improvements. The MAC is too crowded and the QRAC is being converted into (admittedly much-needed) dance space. The USA is in the midst of an obesity crisis, and Harvard can’t spend some of that $22 billion in endowment on sufficient gym space? This issue will be salient so long as the admissions office keeps admitting—as surely it will—students who need to compete in everything, including hardbodyness.
6) Limitations. This personal favorite is woefully lacking from the campaigns of most first-time candidates.
For example, the UC simply cannot make the shuttles run on time, no matter how hard any of its members try. What the UC can do is talk to the amazing folks at Transportation Services about making shuttle punctuality a priority.
If you let the voters know that you understand the UC’s limitations, they’ll elect you as a trustee rather than as a delegate; as a reasonable person rather than as a one-issue (e.g., “Lobster Night at all costs”) Charlie; as a trusted intermediary rather than as a short-leashed gopher.
“But Jason,” you might think, “how can I run on a platform of recognizing the UC’s limitations and make unrealistic promises?” You can’t. Pick whichever feels right for you individually and that’s what will get you elected.
Because, after all, politics is about compromise, but the one thing you must never compromise is yourself.
Jason L. Lurie ’05 is a chemistry concentrator in Cabot House. His column appears regularly.
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