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An outside observer might assume that the Harvard College Undergraduate Council is a high functioning and esteemed body, respected by the students it purports to represent. They would be wrong — at least in 2021.
This November, the UC’s election cycle vindicated a majority of our fellow students who believe that the student government is in some ways a joke: The infighting, ad hominem attacks, shifting campaign policies, rule breaking, and pandering platitudes gave way to a victorious ticket with the stated goal of “defunding the UC,” by decree of about 33 percent voter turnout.
To quickly recap: One ticket accused the UC of tax fraud. Another presidential ticket was disbanded amongst allegations of “seriously undermining the spirit of the election” and then reinstated after the Dean of Students Office had to intervene. This pushed back the entire campaigning and voting period. The winners hazily co-opted a political buzzword: What comes of their defund promise is anyone’s guess. The Election Commission had to nullify all votes cast in the first five hours of voting due to a technical error that made it impossible to vote for the election’s ultimate winner. One candidate announced in the debate that they were “tired of the lying and the backstabbing that has occurred.”
Acknowledging the UC’s abject brokenness became a campaignism in and of itself, as the race’s two “establishment” tickets sent out campaign materials saying these controversies “show how broken the UC is” and “just how terribly the UC has been run.”
Last week was truly a masterclass in the worst of representative democracy in the microcosm of a college campus. So it’s no surprise that nearly 70 percent of the student body did not vote in the election — we don’t blame them. So where do we go from here?
We affirm our decade-old precedent that the UC’s duties should be drastically scaled back to that of a funds distributor. Good, but unfortunately impotent campaign promises like the age-old call for a multicultural center highlight the limited ability of the UC to actually move the University on issues dear to students. We believe that Harvard students are plenty capable of advocating for themselves, and maintain that activists are better at securing change than admittedly dedicated, but often showboaty, UC reps.
It hasn’t always been this bad. As the current UC President and Vice President, Noah A. Harris ’22 and Jenny Y. Gan ’22, wrote in an op-ed asking the student body to vote in the election (they didn’t), past UCs have been able to advocate for great things for the College: fall finals before winter break and Yardfest, to name a few. If the body must continue to exist, which we expect it will, it needs to be all that the UC currently isn’t to secure real improvements: a focused, ethical, and unified voice that is in-touch with the student body. Then, maybe students will associate the body with the change it has brought to pass — not its notorious infighting.
The winning ticket — Michael Y. Cheng ’22 and Emmett E. de Kanter ’24 — promised to rewrite the UC’s constitution, and they have their work cut out for them. Their efforts should focus on shoring up the institution: addressing why the UC elections have shockingly low voter turnout, and the root of why nearly every ticket campaigned on the idea of the UC’s utter dysfunction.
If the students who are in the UC don’t even like it, how can they expect the rest of us to buy in?
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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