Running for Undergraduate Council Leadership, Dhar and Liang Call for Abolition
Aditya A. Dhar ’21 and Andrew W. Liang ’21 have a tear-it-all-down attitude when it comes to fixing what they believe to be a flawed student government. Running under the slogan “a campaign to end campaigns,” the duo is calling for the abolition of the College’s Undergraduate Council.
Dhar, an Applied Mathematics concentrator, and Liang, a Social Studies concentrator and an active Crimson business editor, have no previous experience on the Council, but said they have been longtime critics of UC’s presence on campus.
The campaign is primarily centered on three major promises: abolishing the Council; eliminating the student activities fee, an optional sum that undergraduates pay as part of enrollment costs; and improving students’ feelings of inclusion and belonging.
As the duo explained their campaign promises, they barely cracked a smile. At Saturday’s annual “Crimson Crossfire Debate,” Liang similarly remained composed as he fielded questions about the feasibility of his proposals, such as one to tax all tourists who walk through Harvard Yard.
To justify their calculations, the campaign compiled a white paper, replete with complex multivariable equations — and few numbers.
“We’ve heard a lot about the UC over the past three years. We’ve heard some interesting things,” Dhar said. “Everyone says they want to make a difference, but no one really makes the difference, and we decided to be the ones who could.”
Dhar and Liang said they regard the abolition of the Undergraduate Council as viable and sorely needed.
Liang referred to a predecessor of the Undergraduate Council, called the Student Council, which undergraduates voted to disband in the 1960s, in a bid to show that the duo’s proposal is not without precedent.
A new body, called the Harvard Council for Undergraduate Affairs, replaced the Student Council almost immediately.
The pair has purchased the domain, abolishtheuc.org, which features stick figures and a text message purporting to show an endorsement from the president of Yale’s student government, Yale junior Khalil Greene.
Liang could not verify the authenticity of the endorsement and Greene could not be reached for comment.
Dhar and Liang said that abolition would empower students to propose their own ideas without facing bureaucratic hurdles.
“We are following in the footsteps of giants and are part of a long tradition of civic participation in the most active sense,” Liang said.
Casting themselves as “non-traditional candidates,” the duo said that the vast majority of those seeking UC leadership make promises that they never keep.
The simplistic nature of the duo’s proposals distinguish them, Dhar argued.
“At best, you’re pushing for some random platforms that they espouse, but we just want to be transparent and accountable,” Dhar said. “We just see this as a way to truly give the power back to the people.”
Dhar said that without the UC, alternative means of implementing and advocating for policy would be more effective.
“I think having more ideas is how you get the best ideas,” he said.
One of the ways that Dhar and Liang promise to shift the power of the UC to undergraduates is by repealing the student activities fee. The optional sum — which increased from $75 to $200 last year — mostly accrues to the Council.
In 2018, the UC received approximately $500,000 from the fee, which it in turn doled out to hundreds of undergraduate student groups on campus.
Dhar argued that abolishing the fee would give financial autonomy to students.
“We don’t want to be in the position of managing your money,” he said. “We want you to manage your money, and we want you to get $200 to do whatever you want with it.”
The duo cited what they believe to be inexplicable increases in the fee and financial mismanagement by the UC in allocating its budget. Liang specifically pointed to an article written by a former member of the Council on behalf of the Harvard College Open Data Project, a student-faculty collaboration that conducts analyses of campus-related data sets.
“It literally says that between 2017 and 2019, the UC either lost the receipts, or had money misspent, for $100,000 of club funding, and there was no accountability for that,” Liang said.
Dhar and Liang call their proposal to abolish the fee a “freedom dividend,” even though the $200 would come off of students’ tuition bills rather than be re-allocated to them. The duo said they took inspiration from an “unnamed” Democratic presidential candidate, presumably Andrew Yang, who has proposed a universal basic income of $1,000 per month to all American adults.
“We wanted to call our lack of a student activities fee a ‘freedom dividend,’ to let people know that they are getting their money back, and that we’re giving money back to the people,” he said.
One aspect of the duo’s campaign is an attempt to connect the student body, both physically and metaphorically.
As part of that goal, Dhar and Liang said they will advocate for the construction of a multicultural center on campus, one of their few conventional campaign promises.
They also call for the College to “move the Quad back to the Yard,” which they said would likely entail purchasing the land between the two undergraduate living campuses.
“Last year, the [Harvard Management Company] spent $161 million dollars on house renovations,” Liang said, apparently referring to the 2017 budget year. “We’ll use the $161 million to buy up every single building between the Quad to the Yard.”
If that does not materialize, Dhar said, “we’ll dig up the entirety of the Quad and airlift it to the Yard.”
In order to fund their proposals, the pair plan to levy a $1 tax on all tourists entering Harvard Yard, which will increase to $50 during Primal Scream, a biannual event at the end of reading period in which students sprint a nude lap around the Yard.
Without an Undergraduate Council, though, the duo would no longer have a formal position from which to advocate for these ideas.
Rather, the impetus for the enactment of proposals such as a multicultural center would come from grass-roots pressure exerted by students on administrators, such as University President Lawrence S. Bacow.
Liang argued that the tax on tourists would provide ample revenue for the construction of a multicultural center and to pay for the proposal to move the Quad to the Yard.
Dhar turns more serious when it comes to students’ feelings of inclusion. The duo will hold an event at El Jefe’s Taqueria on Tuesday in order to bring together students who harbor negative feelings about the UC.
“Our campaign strategy is to make sure that people know about us, and know about how dear to our hearts the issue of abolishing the UC is, because we feel that it’s a sentiment that is common to so many people,” Dhar said. “People have different reasons for abolishing the UC, and we feel that one night at Jefe’s over a bowl of nachos can do a lot to further that common goal.”
Liang said that regardless of the results of the election, he hopes that the duo’s proposals will spark a conversation on campus.
“We are getting people excited for the UC in a way that neither of us has seen in our three years at Harvard,” Liang said. “I don’t think the UC has ever put out an event that has had the same kind of participation and sign-ups and excitement that we’ve had, and there definitely hasn’t been a UC video viewed 1000 times in one day, as we’ve had.”
“I really just hope that we make more people interested in the UC, and learn a little more about the things they can and cannot do, so they can get their benefits with the money they give to the UC,” Dhar added.