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UC Removes Constitutional Requirement to Register as Non-Profit, Approves Controversial Budget Amendment

Harvard's Undergraduate Council passed controversial legislation at a tense, three-hour meeting Sunday.
Harvard's Undergraduate Council passed controversial legislation at a tense, three-hour meeting Sunday. By MyeongSeo Kim
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Lucas J. Walsh, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Undergraduate Council passed legislation removing its constitution’s requirement to register as a non-profit and reallocating previously-assigned funds during a tense three-hour meeting Sunday that came just one day after the conclusion of a contentious UC presidential election.

Tensions on the council boiled over during the meeting, as members debated constitutional amendments, bylaw suspensions, and budget changes. One member left in tears and another took over a microphone to denounce the organization’s culture.

“This is the first meeting following the outcome of a really contentious election,” UC Vice President Jenny Y. Gan ’22 said in an interview after the meeting Sunday. “So you might imagine that that might be reflected in how people talk to each other, interact, less than 24 hours after the results were announced.”

During the first portion of the meeting, the body changed its constitution to strike Section 12 from Article 1, which required the body to register as a non-profit organization and to dissolve itself and redistribute its funding should it fail to do so. The UC also passed legislation reallocating previously-assigned funds, which drew backlash from some members of the body who said the move was unconstitutional.

The constitutional amendment came following allegations by a UC presidential ticket, which ultimately lost, that the organization committed tax fraud by failing to register as a non-profit.

“The UC has continued to operate and function since 2012 despite not filing as a nonprofit,” the legislation reads.

Later in the meeting, the body suspended its bylaws to re-allocate funds to provide annual grant funding to the Phillips Brooks House Association. Some UC members — including the body’s parliamentarian — said the act violated the council’s constitution by reallocating money that was previously assigned to a committee without obtaining the sub-group’s consent to do so.

UC parliamentarian Samuel H. Taylor ’24 said the act violated Section 2 of Article IV of the UC Constitution, which states that “in cases where legislation calls for the allocation of funding from a non-docketing committee’s budget, that committee must approve that legislation for docketing by way of a successful vote of endorsement.”

“There’s no wiggle room there,” Taylor said of the provision Monday. “Usually there is, but that is not a vaguely-written provision. That’s a really clear provision.”

UC Pesident Noah A. Harris ’22 and Vice President Jenny Y. Gan ’22 pushed back against claims that the legislation was unconstitutional.

“The amendment to the budget was constitutional,” Harris and Gan wrote in a statement Monday. “Originally, the constitutional question was if the Treasurer could re-allocate money from the Finance Committee to PBHA. However, the legislation was instead submitted as a budget amendment, which the Treasurer is able to do.”

The legislation allocates $15,000 from the UC Burst Pack — a source of funds any UC committee can draw from — and $10,000 from the body’s finance committee toward a $25,000 block grant for PBHA. The legislation passed 17-11 with four abstentions.

UC Secretary Nicholas J. Brennan ’23, who voted against the act, argued the legislation is unconstitutional.

“They’ve kind of become like the piggy bank that everybody on the Council targets for money,” Brennan said of the finance committee. “I think that this is just another continuation of that.”

UC Treasurer Kimani E. Panthier ’24, who introduced the legislation Sunday, wrote in a statement that he proposed the act following “numerous meetings with PBHA leadership” during which the organization requested grant funds from the UC.

“As the Treasurer, it is within my constitutional ability to propose and/or amend a budget,” Panthier wrote Monday. “After consultation with the President, Vice President, Rules Chair (who is also the former Treasurer), I decided this was the best course of action.”

—Staff writer Lucas J. Walsh can be reached at lucas.walsh@thecrimson.com.

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