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With midterm exams already underway, University President Lawrence S. Bacow issued an “additional assignment” to students Tuesday: register to vote ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
In an email to students bearing the subject line “Democracy,” Bacow urged eligible students to register to vote, to read up on the candidates and the issues, and to cast a ballot this November.
“In five weeks, Americans will head to the polls for the midterm elections and fulfill the first responsibility of citizenship in a democracy,” Bacow wrote.
In his email, Bacow included a link to an Institute of Politics website that helps students register to vote and request absentee ballots from their home states.
The midterm elections mark a possible political inflection point in the Trump era, especially for the interests of Harvard and its peer institutions. Several items on the Republican legislative agenda — such as the “unprecedented” tax on university endowment returns and threats to financial aid and federal research funding in the Higher Education Act. — have reinforced a hostile political climate surrounding higher education.
In addition, some students have found their legal status in limbo following the Trump administration’s Sept. 2017 decision to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that allows undocumented youth to legally live and work in the United States. Roughly 65 undocumented students attended the College during the 2017-2018 academic year.
Due to their tax exempt status as a non-profit, higher education institutions must remain non-partisan and therefore cannot endorse any candidates or parties, though Bacow has been an outspoken opponent of the endowment tax and the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA. In an interview last week, he called the endowment tax an example of “poor public policy” and said ending DACA was “profoundly unfair.”
Bacow also said last week that he has personally spoken to lawmakers in Congress about endowment tax, securing legal protections for undocumented students, and support for federal Pell Grants and research funding. He met with several legislators on both sides of the aisle during a trip to D.C. in July.
In his email, Bacow wrote, he has been inspired since taking office on July 1 by students’ desire to make a difference in the world. He has interacted with undergraduates over meals in Houses, runs along the Charles, and events during Opening Days.
“What has inspired me so far is your deep engagement with the work of making the world better,” he wrote. “I have every confidence that those of you who are able to vote will do so.”
This is not the first time that Bacow has called for civic engagement among Harvard students. In his first Convocation address last month, Bacow directed freshmen gathered in Tercentenary Theatre to take out their phones and write down the address of the Institute of Politics website he referenced in Tuesday’s email so that students could register to vote.
“If you don’t think that the world that we live in is perfect, the only way it gets better is if good people like you work to repair it,” Bacow said at Convocation.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.
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