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Some Members Say Undergraduate Council President and Vice President Potentially Ineligible to Vote

UC first meeting Smith Center
The Undergraduate Council meets in the Smith Campus Center.

Undergraduate Council representatives contested the ability of the president and vice president to vote as representatives of the council on legislation at the UC’s general meeting Sunday, interrupting the normal agenda several times.

In an interview after the meeting, Elm Yard representative Michael Y. Cheng ’22, who chairs the Rules Committee, said the UC’s constitution is ambiguous regarding whether or not the duo can vote in regular procedure. The fact that the president and vice president are not representatives of the Council, but rather executive officers, might suggest they should not vote, but there is also no language that explicitly prevents the president and vice president from voting, according to Cheng.

Members elected from upperclassman houses or freshman Yard districts are considered representatives. When the entire student body elects the president and vice president every fall, the duo forgoes their seats in their respective houses and are subsequently considered executive officers, according to the UC’s constitution.

The issue remained unresolved at the conclusion of the meeting, and current President Sruthi Palaniappan and Vice President Julia M. Huesa participated in normal voting procedures throughout the duration of the meeting.

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Past UC presidents and vice presidents have voted on legislation in recent memory, however, according to Secretary Cade S. Palmer ’20, who is also a former Crimson sports chair.

The UC president also has the power to break ties on votes. Some representatives said they are concerned that the president could vote normally and then also break a tie, essentially giving that person two votes.

Lowell House representative Jungyeon Park ’20 said she thinks the constitution implies that the president should not be eligible to vote on standard bills.

“Not only the president, but the chairs, because they have to remain impartial, is not supposed to vote in regular times, and that’s why they’re allowed to break ties by giving a vote,” Park said. “They’re not usually supposed to vote because if they're allowed to vote and also break ties that means their vote is being counted twice, which is not allowed.”

Treasurer Jack M. Swanson ’22 disagreed with this reading of the UC’s constitution. He said that Robert’s Rules of Order, a manual of parliamentary procedure that the UC defaults to when its constitution does not specify a particular situation, allows the chair and vice chair of a group — in this case, the president and vice president of the UC — to vote on legislation.

During the meeting, the UC voted unanimously to pass a statement of solidarity for the Harvard Wears Denim event on Apr. 24. Hosted by the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response and Consent Advocates Relationship Educators, this Denim Day event observes the end of Sexual Assault Awareness month, with events including a speaker series and restorative yoga.

The legislation, which was co-sponsored by Mather House representative Sanika S. Mahajan ’21 and Dunster House representative Janani Krishnan-Jha ’20, states the UC is responsible for supporting students and organizations who promote “dismantling sexual and gender-based violence on campus.”

“We, the Harvard Undergraduate Council, wear denim in solidarity with survivors to reinforce our commitment to fighting sexual violence on campus and to addressing the needs of survivors and allies, today and every day,” the statement reads.

The UC also declined to consider a statement of support for Danu A.K. Mudannayake ’20, which the Council failed to pass last week. Mudannayake was previously involved in a confrontation with two Winthrop tutors in Winthrop dining hall. She alleges that one of the tutors, Carl L. Miller, took photos and videos of her; Miller alleges Mudannayake harassed him and his family. Two-thirds are required to consider the statement as new business, but only 60 percent of representatives voted in favor.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Laura C. Espinoza can be reached at laura.espinoza@thecrimson.com.

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