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Harvard Dean of Students Office Weighing Proposal to Temporarily Freeze Creation of New Clubs

The Student Organization Center at Hilles is located at 59 Shepard St. in the Radcliffe Quadrangle.
The Student Organization Center at Hilles is located at 59 Shepard St. in the Radcliffe Quadrangle. By Jennifer Z. Liang
By Ella L. Jones and John N. Peña, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College’s Dean of Students Office has proposed a temporary pause on the creation of new student organizations, citing limited resources to accommodate the needs of existing clubs.

According to the co-presidents of the Harvard Undergraduate Association, administrators from the DSO suggested the move at an April meeting of the Committee on Student Life, an advisory panel at the College composed of administrators, faculty deans, and undergraduates.

Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason R. Meier said in a Wednesday interview that the pause would seek to address the imbalance between the volume of student organizations and the resources available to support them.

The DSO oversees more than 500 existing student organizations and has received between 80 and 100 applications for new organizations annually, a number that has increased over the past two years, according to Meier.

“Reality is, the resources that we have in terms of space, finances, membership, and advising is not keeping pace with the amount of organizations that we have,” he said.

Meier said a pause would allow the DSO a chance to “stop the pile-on so that we can strategically think about how to properly manage the system.”

Alongside limited resources, Meier said the number of student organizations has created redundancy in clubs and made it difficult for some groups to recruit new members.

“If every student makes their own student org, who’s a member of that student org?” he said. “We really need to take a pause to really rethink what this process is to make sure that we're setting our student orgs up for success.”

Meier said the DSO is “benchmarking” its student organization ecosystem with other peer institutions, adding that those schools manage fewer clubs and only approve around 20 annually. Despite the proposed pause, the DSO is not looking to limit or reduce the number of student organizations in the long term.

“It would be against everything we stand for to tell an org, ‘You can’t exist anymore,’” he said.

The proposed pause would be the latest in a series of moves by the DSO to increase regulation of independent student organizations.

In recent months, the DSO has renewed efforts to restrict branding by student organizations, with a focus on groups’ use of the Harvard name. Meier said in an April interview that the DSO also plans to conduct an audit of independent student organizations in conjunction with Harvard’s Office of Risk Management, but he said Wednesday that the proposed pause is unrelated to the audit.

HUA Co-President John S. Cooke ’25 said he and Co-President Shikoh Misu Hirabayashi ’24 have spoken “vehemently against” the proposal.

“We were completely against it because obviously student organizations — and starting student orgs — are a big part of student life here,” Cooke said.

Hirabayashi called a freeze on creating new clubs “too extreme,” but he acknowledged the resource constraints faced by the DSO.

“It is somewhat true that there are a lot of clubs and there are limited finances,” he said.

Cooke added that it would be “valuable” for students to offer feedback on whether they support or oppose the proposal directly to the DSO, adding that he and Hirabayashi can only do so much as co-presidents to convey student opinion.

Meier said he is “always happy to take critical feedback” and that he appreciates the co-presidents’ suggestions.

Meier declined to comment on the likelihood of a club creation freeze, but he said the DSO is soliciting feedback from students about the proposal.

“We’re also being really realistic about, ‘What can the ecosystem withstand?’ Because at some point, if it continues to grow at this rate, that system will break,” he said.

—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ejones8100.

—Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @john_pena7.

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