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With Undergraduate Council President Michael Y. Cheng ’22 set to graduate in May, the fate of Harvard’s student government remains uncertain.
Cheng will leave office this spring having only served half of his yearlong term. The new president of the student government will ascend through one of two routes — a new election triggered by a constitutional referendum or the promotion of current UC Vice President Emmett E. de Kanter ’24.
Cheng vowed during his campaign to “Defund the UC” and restructure the student government via a constitutional rewrite. The Citizens’ Assembly, a group of randomly selected students convened by Cheng to draft the new constitution, will present their final draft by the end of the school year.
In order to pass, the draft must be ratified by a school-wide referendum, overcoming the recently hiked threshold — a two-thirds majority voting in favor, with over two-fifths of the student body turning out to vote.
If this mark is met, a complete reassembly of the Council would take place, including new elections for executive leadership.
Despite receiving pushback from the Council on an early draft, Lowell House Representative and Citizens’ Assembly member LyLena D. Estabine ’24 said that she was confident that voting students would favor the new constitution.
“I think that those who do choose to vote in the referendum will be highly in favor of this new system,” Estabine said. “If people show up, we have a chance at doing something new and exciting.”
Others on the Council were more skeptical.
“I think in its current form, it definitely wouldn't pass through the UC without a lot of revamping and feedback from the UC members,” Council Secretary Jane J. Oh ’24 said.
In the event the new constitution fails, de Kanter would inherit the presidency, and the Council would elect a new vice president.
But de Kanter himself thinks it is unlikely that he will be president.
“I strongly believe that the Harvard student body will ratify the constitution written by the Citizen’s Assembly,” de Kanter wrote in a text message. “The students at this school are ready for a change, and the model that the Assembly is going to pitch is a pretty exciting take on student government that will be more effective, representative, and inclusive.”
When it came to becoming president, de Kanter expressed hesitancy.
“Mike and I have been so focused on facilitating the assembly and numerous other projects relating to student life that I haven’t really given much thought to the possibility of failure,” de Kanter said. “If [the constitution is] not [ratified], then I think I’ll have to think long and hard about what my future with Harvard student government will look like.”
Still, the prospect of a de Kanter presidency was welcomed by some members of the body.
“He seems like a really nice guy, and he’s made some good contributions,” Kirkland Representative Ivor K. Zimmerman ’23 said.
Others praised de Kanter at the expense of Cheng.
“Based off of just temperature, I think he would definitely cool down the tensions within the UC because he is much more willing to communicate and work with us,” Oh said.
“Michael is remarkably obstructionist in preventing the Council from doing their jobs,” Dunster Representative Samuel H. Taylor ’24 said. “I think Emmett is going to be a lot more reasonable to deal with.”
Cheng declined to respond to the criticisms, instead deferring to Estabine.
“He is the last person I would describe as obstructionist,” Estabine said. “He's a builder. He's a creator, and he's a visionary, and he's so energetic about work and not about drama.”
—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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