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Campus news often reads like a tracker of rote administrative decisions — that is, until a student transfers thousands of dollars of club funds to her own personal bank account.
On Jan. 1, Sama E.N. Kubba ’24, the former president of the Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative, transferred approximately $30,000 from the HUFPI bank account into her own, triggering an ongoing dispute between herself and new club leadership.
A Crimson expose published last week revealed a pattern of profligate spending of HUFPI funds — at places including nail salons and an upscale French department store — and text messages that showed Kubba threatening to freeze club funding if she was not given a prominent speaker slot at a HUFPI-co-hosted summit. Kubba denies that she improperly used her HUFPI credit card.
Episodes like these — revealed through months of reporting, which uncovered details like the more than $4,000 in club funds spent on a corgi later referred to as the club’s “Ambassador of Love” — are undoubtedly rare at Harvard. But clubs on this campus that profit from Harvard’s deep-pocketed alumni and international name recognition are often flush with cash. Why would we expect students — who often lack any financial experience — to exercise sound management of their clubs’ funds?
We are strongly in favor of student self-governance: It is perhaps the greatest learning opportunity of the college experience. Student organizations, a cardinal component of the Harvard education, are especially rich with opportunities to grow as leaders.
But handing student leaders hundreds of thousands of dollars and expecting them to learn financial skills through trial and error is like handing a child a loaded gun and expecting them to teach themselves how to shoot.
Self-governance cannot mean total freedom from oversight, and this case has revealed to us the dearth of supervision for club funding at Harvard. There must be guardrails in place to prevent future fiduciary fumbles, particularly for newer clubs like HUFPI. The Dean of Students Office ought to have a public protocol for dealing with any disputes like these.
Within this protocol, any gross cases of misconduct should be thoroughly investigated and, if substantiated, met with disciplinary action, perhaps extending past the DSO. The College punishes students for academic dishonesty; we fail to see why egregious misconduct with registered College clubs should elicit a different reaction.
Outside of this post hoc protocol, the DSO should arrange measures to disincentivize improper monetary management, while preserving club independence. The DSO should offer — but not impose — rigorous financial training for club leaders and voluntary audits for clubs interested in resolving financial complaints. Yearly internal revenue reporting should be required from all student groups.
Club leaders are young adults who are likely learning to manage large sums of money for the first time. Although training will not prevent financial mismanagement from ill-intentioned actors, we believe that most students would benefit from more guidance. Especially given the large number of students who will graduate to work in finance and consulting — just over 40 percent last year — we believe College-provided financial instruction would be a broadly valuable experience.
Advisory boards composed of alumni or other stakeholders could also serve as a productive check on student organizations, without compromising their autonomy. While HUFPI and similar clubs may be relatively young, their budgets total more than what most Harvard graduates will earn per year upon graduation — enough to warrant an advisory board.
The HUFPI affair is an unresolved dispute and a cause for concern. It is also a stress test of Harvard’s ability to oversee its registered clubs — one that has revealed many holes in the system. Reforming the mechanisms of financial oversight should be a top priority for the DSO.
We love our clubs and we love corgis — we just don’t think one should be spending money on the other, a point College administrators raised with HUFPI. It would be nice if they also raised more safeguards around club funding at large.
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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