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Harvard GSAS Council Approves Budget, Initiates Elections

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Council meets in Lehman Hall, which houses the school.
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Council meets in Lehman Hall, which houses the school. By Frank S. Zhou
By Tosin O. Akinsiku and Tilly R. Robinson, Crimson Staff Writers

Members of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Council approved a budget for the 2024 fiscal year and initiated its program representative election process for the upcoming academic year at a meeting Wednesday.

The approved budget allocates funding for eligible graduate student organizations, provides conference and research grants to GSAS students, and supports student events.

The increase of in-person programming in the prior fiscal year meant the Council spent much of the money it had saved when activities moved online due to Covid-19, according to GSC President Jessica W. Chen and Treasurer Frank O. Addae.

“We spent a lot, but it was wisely because the students needed to benefit from these funds,” Addae said.

This year’s budget — approved unanimously — includes around $7,000 in funds that were not spent last year, in addition to roughly $100,000 in revenue expected from student fees. Addae added he anticipates only around $200 will be left over for the next fiscal year.

In the past, the GSC’s budget has emphasized providing aid to groups who submit comprehensive funding applications and indicate they aim to provide innovative programming, per Aaron B. Benavidez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology who served on the GSC’s Funding Committee last year.

Some of the funding the GSC offers to students is quite competitive. Co-Chair of Support Jonathan Boretsky, who oversees the provision of conference and summer resource grants, said the GSC accepted only 8 percent of applications to help fund students’ travel to conferences in the last fiscal year.

“We want to change that because I personally believe that every graduate student should be able to attend a conference not out of their own pocket,” Chen said. She added the 8 percent acceptance rate was “very low.”

The meeting also initiated the GSC’s elections for program representatives. Out of the five open positions, candidates had filed or been nominated for three. Only the race to serve as the At-Large Representative for Master’s Students was contested.

Benavidez said he was concerned about what he believed was the ad hoc and potentially unfair nature of the election process. He argued that the ability of officers, such as the president and vice president, to nominate candidates could introduce bias.

The “cleanest version of the election” would involve nominating candidates anonymously before the meeting, so their personalities could emerge without bias, he added.

“The idea that the elections are so small, so narrow, so time-dependent, and already flavored by the voices of the people already in power — it gets too close to the danger of replicating leadership,” Benavidez said.

He also said that this phenomenon could discourage students from becoming involved in the GSC.

Following Benavidez’s comments, Parliamentarian Rachel A. Martin said part of her job was to supervise elections and prevent undue influence. She added GSC officers had considered bringing in the Council’s staff advisers to ensure fair elections.

Council President Chen said GSAS students who had concerns about the structure of the GSC or its election process could join the Constitutional Revision Committee, which Martin chairs.

“Please join the Constitutional Revision Committee because there are many more stimulating discussions to be had,” Chen said.

Corrections: October 4, 2023

A previous version of this article used the incorrect middle initial for Aaron B. Benavidez.

A previous version of this article included an incorrect referenced to Graduate Student Council faculty advisers. In fact, these advisers are staff members, not faculty.

—Staff writer Tosin O. Akinsiku can be reached at tosin.akinsiku@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com.

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