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Though Tuesday’s Harvard Kennedy School Student Government meeting ran an hour longer than scheduled, the body did not end up conducting the vote it originally set out to hold.
During the two-hour meeting, the KSSG originally aimed to discuss and vote on proposed bylaws that would restructure the executive board and move the elections of the president, executive vice president, vice president of finance, and vice president of elections from the fall to the start of the spring semester.
Instead, it became embroiled in tension, raised voices, accusations, and misunderstandings, ending with a motion to table the vote, an agreement to host more listening sessions, and no clear dates on when the original issues will be resolved.
Shared by KSSG President Sam Yoon on March 29, the proposed amendments aimed to avoid another controversial fall election and interim process like the one that took place in September 2022.
But opponents of the final proposal — both within KSSG and outside — said the amendments would prevent students pursuing a mid-career master’s in public administration, as well as other single-year students, from being able to vie for these positions.
Under the proposed bylaws, single year students — who begin their programs in the fall — would not be able to vote in the previous spring election for the president and vice president who would represent them during their time at the school. Some attendees said it is unfair for single year students to be unable to choose who represents them.
“It feels undemocratic and violates every principle of the ideals of democracy that we came here to absorb and learn,” HKS MC/MPA student Laura A. Cahill said.
Members of KSSG who volunteered to draft the new bylaws said in Tuesday’s meeting that this potential exclusion was an unintended consequence of an attempt to make KSSG more effective.
Lucy C.M. McSweeney, who helped draft the new bylaws, said, “there’s no intent to exclude.”
“The intention behind the change temporarily was just wanting to get more continuity and wanting to get more engagement because it’s challenging at the moment,” said McSweeney, the KSSG vice president of internal affairs, in an interview after the meeting.
Another concern raised by KSSG members and attendees was that the bylaw voting process seemed rushed, and students did not have enough time to represent their thoughts.
“They put out the recommendation pretty recently, and this is a very major change,” HKS MC/MPA student Sharon W. Lai said. “Maybe we should slow it back a little bit and involve more voices.”
KSSG Vice President of Finance Alexander R. Cooper, who also helped write the proposed bylaws, said the voting process needed to be short because no one ran for interim president or vice president. When current KSSG members’ terms end, there will be no student government if the bylaws do not pass.
“Where the urgency comes from is to say, ‘Come May, there will be no KSSG because our terms will end, and we won’t have identified a successor government,’” Cooper said.
Cooper also said that during the process of drafting the proposals, there was low engagement from other student representatives, adding his first time hearing most of the critiques was during the Tuesday meeting. Still, he said he appreciated that students were now taking part in the process.
“I’m glad that the outcome of this meeting is that there is more engagement,” Cooper said. “The reality was before today, there really hadn’t been that energy.”
“And so I’m glad that energy now exists, and I hope that we can take it and use it to deliver some meaningful change,” he added.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Enitan Oluwatobi Okediji said she shared her concerns with the authors of the bylaws before they were released to the student body, adding that she was surprised to see that they hadn’t changed by Tuesday’s meeting. Nevertheless, she said she didn’t consider the disagreements during the meeting as a failure of student government.
“What we did today was at the core of what engagement looks like,” she said. “I think it is on that basis that I would say that this was not necessarily a failure, but progress.”
Not everyone in attendance agreed.
“I view this meeting as a dumpster fire,” Cahill said.
—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @asherjmont.
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