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Council Debates Proposal Publicity

Plan to purchase Mt. Auburn Street building leads to rare closed sessions

By Brittany M Llewellyn and Eric P. Newcomer, Crimson Staff Writers

The Undergraduate Council faced off yesterday over whether to publicize that it is considering purchasing a four-million dollar property at 45 Mount Auburn Street in a meeting marked by two off-the-record executive sessions—extremely rare interludes that close the proceedings to public and press.

The UC-appointed “Social Space Task Force” presented a plan to Council members that proposed the purchase of 45 Mount Auburn Street, currently owned by the Foundation for Civic Leadership, for use as a student community center. The proposal, which has yet to receive any endorsement from any segment of the UC, would require the Council to organize a capital campaign to raise roughly $600,000 as a down-payment on the property.
Serious debate erupted about whether the proposal for both the purchase and the capital campaign was sufficiently developed to be circulated to students.

UC Representative Joshua J. Nuni ’10 presented the purchasing plan to the Council during one of the closed-door executive sessions at yesterday’s meeting, he said. According to the plan, the extensive capital campaign necessary for the down-payment would begin June 1, with the payment coming Sept. 15.

The campaign could involve combining door-knocking campaigns, term-bill charges, rental fees from student groups, and alumni donations—and would entail hiring staff to help conduct the fundraising effort.

“This is offering us a chance as a Harvard student body to radically change our culture,” Nuni said of the potential property purchase. “We can decide to create an open, inclusive, student-run, financially independent social space that will be a center for the Harvard student community.”

But UC president Andrea R. Flores ’10 said that undertaking a campaign of hundreds of thousands of dollars could significantly distract from the UC’s other responsibilities, including grant-giving and advocacy.

“The question is whether the UC is capable of undertaking a capital campaign of this magnitude in this current economic climate,” she said.

Bringing the purchasing proposal to students in its present state was “totally irresponsible,” said Flores, according to the minutes from the closed portion of yesterday’s meeting. Flores later confirmed making the statement, and said that she had been suggesting that in its tentative state the proposal could only spur uninformed feedback.

But the Council passed the “Social Space Proposal Outreach Act” anyway. The next step in the publication of the proposal will involve establishing a feedback mechanism to assess student interest. The legislation called for the creation of one to five focus groups composed of Council members and students to consider the proposal.

The Council voted to go into executive session twice yesterday—drawing upon a measure taken only two other times in the previous two UC administrations. In both prior cases in the past two years, the minutes from the closed portions of the meetings were later released. But the Council voted not to make public the minutes from the first executive session of yesterday’s meeting—a decision that the UC’s Student Affairs Committe Chair Tamar Holoshitz ’10 later decried.  

“It’s embarrassing that the UC went into executive session twice in one meeting,” Holoshitz said. “That’s not transparent, representative government.”

“We’re talking about something that’s a major student concern,” she added. “The fact that there hasn’t been open dialogue so far has been problematic.”
Holoshitz said she did not think anything in the minutes deserved to be kept secret.

As reflected in the majority vote to close the meeting—and keep it closed—other Council members disagreed with Holoshitz.

“We’re discussing legal and real estate matters and it’s better to keep it confidential,” Flores said.

The reasons for keeping parts of the meeting closed sprang from a “mix of allowing us to have a full and open discussion and [the fact that] there were things the current owners did not want to be public in The Crimson yet,” UC parliamentarian Eric N. Hysen ’11.

—Staff writer Brittany M. Llewellyn  can be reached at bllewell@fas.harvard.edu.
—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at newcomer@fas.harvard.edu.

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