Undergraduate Council Pushes Harvard to Examine Student Voice on Campus

The College will convene a task force of students, staff, and faculty to examine the role of student input on Harvard policies, the Undergraduate Council announced in an email to the student body on Thursday.

The creation of the Task Force on Student Voice follows a series of discussions between UC leadership and the administration on ways of increasing student’s ability to make their opinions heard on campus.

“I think we really got the point across that we needed an overhaul of the way student voice is incorporated, and I think the Deans really heard that message,” outgoing UC President Senan Ebrahim said.

Last month, the Council hosted an unprecedented open meeting with Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and President Drew G. Faust.

The Task Force will send its recommendations to Hammonds along with Faust and Smith.

“I think the UC can play an important role in facilitating student participation in University governance, with the end result being a significant enhancement of the student voice on campus,” Dean Hammonds wrote in an official letter to Ebrahim on Wednesday.

In addition to creating the Task Force, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds announced the creation of a program to help new UC members understand the structure of the Harvard administration and develop leadership and communication skills.

The Leadership Intensive will involve sessions between new UC members and administration and faculty to familiarize students with the existing channels of student influence.

“Having this intensive outright at the beginning of every term will really give UC leaders and all representatives a head start on being able to dig right into projects,” Ebrahim said.

The Task Force will help address what many students perceive as a lack of participation in official decisions at the College, according to Ebrahim.

“I think its a very commendable effort on the part of the UC to engage students in the administration,” Jonathan L. Newmark ’12, former president of the Harvard College Democrats, said. “It also reflects the progress of the University’s commitment to really reach out to the undergrads.”

Many of the details of the Task Force still have to be worked out, but Ebrahim anticipates that it will consist of around fifteen members and begin making recommendations within a year.

For now, Ebrahim and UC Vice President Bonnie Cao see the Task Force and Leadership Initiative as significant steps in achieving their campaign promise of changing the role of student voice at Harvard.

“We do consider ourselves part of a community, and we do want to be part of the direction and the vision of what the University should look like,” Ebrahim said.