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UC Confirms President and VP Can Vote, Sponsor Legislation

Sruthi and Julia
Sruthi Palaniappan '20 (right) and Julia M. Huesa '20 (left) after learning they had won the Undergraduate Council election last fall.

Harvard's Undergraduate Council confirmed that its president and vice president can vote and sponsor legislation at its general meeting Sunday.

The Sunday meeting put an end to a months-long period of uncertainty, during which the president and vice president had to start each meeting with asking council members for permission to vote in that particular meeting. The proposal to allow the president and vice president to vote and sponsor legislation passed 34-4-2.

Representatives first questioned whether the president and vice president had the power to vote and sponsor legislation in April due to an ambiguity in the council’s constitution. The constitution refers to the president and vice president as “executive officers” rather than “representatives,” which some argued suggests they cannot vote. The constitution also lacks language explicitly preventing the president and vice president from voting, according to Michael Y. Cheng ’22, who chaired the council’s Rules Committee last year.

At its final meeting last semester, the council voted to establish a new committee with the power to interpret the constitution. That committee decided to strip the president and vice president of their voting rights and ability to sponsor legislation.

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Enough representatives changed their votes after the meeting, however, to annul the committee’s establishment, leaving the president’s and vice president’s powers in the council uncertain.

Mather House representative Conner P. Williams ’21, who currently chairs the council’s Rules Committee, sponsored the legislation Sunday to formally recognize the president and vice president as “full members” of the council with the ability to vote and sponsor legislation.

Williams said that according to the UC’s archives, the president and vice president have maintained voting rights on the council since its inception.

Many representatives said they supported the legislation because they believe the president and vice president should have membership rights so they can execute the platform they ran on.

“I think it’s important that the president and vice president are able to introduce legislation and are able to have a voice on the council,” said Lowell House representative Rachel L. Reynolds ’22, who is also a Crimson blog editor.

Dunster House representative Janani Krishnan-Jha ’20 noted the presidential election has historically had the highest turnout of all elections for UC representatives.

“If people want the policies that the president and vice president were suggesting in their platform, that’s why they elected them, and that’s why those policies should be implemented,” Krishnan-Jha said.

Current President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 and Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20 said they agree they need the ability to vote and sponsor legislation to do their job effectively.

“The ability for the President and VP to sponsor legislation and vote is paramount not only to the execution of platform points that they were elected to push forth, but also to the effective representation of student interests on the UC and at Harvard more broadly,” Palaniappan and Huesa wrote in a statement.

Some representatives said they opposed the legislation because it would perpetuate what they see as an imbalance of power on the council.

“My main issue is with the president and vice president voting,” Adams House representative A. Blake Barclay ’22 said. “It does give whatever Houses the president and vice president are in an extra vote.”

Each House has three representatives on the council, but the president and vice president do not count toward this limit, according to the body’s constitution.

UC Secretary Cade S. Palmer ’20, who also voted against the proposal, said he is concerned that council members would be overly eager to vote for legislation sponsored by the president and vice president.

“There’s something different in nature about being the president than being a representative,” said Palmer, who is also a former Crimson sports chair.

The UC also passed a proposal 34-5-2 that would place all internal rules-related legislation after other docketed legislation in meeting agendas. Adams House representative Alexa C. Jordan ’22 and Leverett House representative Jenny Y. Gan ’22 sponsored the legislation because they said that in previous years, the council spent too much time at the beginning of meetings debating rules-related proposals instead of legislation that directly affects their constituents.

The Council also unanimously voted to renew its Grant for an Open Harvard College, which funds events that address one of the council’s “compelling interests” which include social life, financial accessibility, harassment prevention, and mental health. This year, the interest of “race relations” will be changed to “cultural and racial initiatives” in order to promote diversity in a broader sense, according to Dunster House representative Noah Harris ’22, who also chairs the Finance Committee.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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