Who Will Lead the UC?


As the presidential election nears its close, three tickets want your vote. 

When a new Undergraduate Council President steps into office in February, he or she will inherit the leadership of a student government that has been sharply criticized for its dealings with University Hall.

A speech by current UC president Ryan Petersen ’08 at Drew Faust’s induction ceremony in October was the high-water mark of student discontent, with Crimson editorials bemoaning Petersen’s speech as “embarrassing” and “tactless.”

None of the three tickets hoping to come out on top when the polls close tomorrow agree with the tactics that the UC has used in the past months. However, they differ on what exactly they think the nature of the UC’s relations with the administration should be.

Most critical of the UC’s actions are the Martel-Zimmermann and Willey-Snow tickets. In an interview, presidential hopeful Frances Martel ’09, Publisher and Forum Editor of the Independent, said students are “ashamed of what they [the UC] did,” and that the “haughty tone” of the UC has been bad for student-administration relations. Martel, whose running mate Leo Zimmermann ’09 has been largely absent from the campaign, said that the UC should accept its position in relation to the administration while still speaking for the student body.

Roy Willey ’09, who is running for President alongside running mate Nick Snow ’09, thinks that the UC hasn’t been forceful enough. Willey said that the “number one failing of the current UC administration is that they have not been willing to stand up to the administration,” and that Matthew Sundquist “sold out” to University Hall. In a debate organized by the Harvard College Democrats, Willey said that “it’s time to have a student leader who will stand up for the student body and fight for the changes that we need.”

Somewhere in between Martel and Wiley lies Sundquist ’09 and his VP hopeful Randall Sarafa ’09, who currently hold office in the UC as Vice President and Finance Committee Chair, respectively. Sundquist and Sarafa were hesitant to comment on the recent student-administration relations, pointing instead to the departure of a student-friendly dean and the presence of an interim dean as the main source of friction. While Sundquist continually reiterated the successes of the UC that occurred while he served as Vice President, he said that he did not condone all of Ryan Petersen’s tactics. “Ryan and I don’t agree on everything.”

The Yale College Council has had a much easier time working with the Yale administration. “Student government at Yale has always had good relations with the administration,” said Emily Schofield, the Vice President of the Yale College Council. Schofield did say, however, that relations can be a “situation-dependent thing.” She mentioned that she could see some instances in which more aggressive tactics could be used, but said that in Yale’s case, “more confrontational tactics have not seemed appropriate or desirable.”

Back in Cambridge, the party grant issue has created a divisive situation, provoking the angst of the students and sending, as one Crimson staff editorial described it, “shockwaves through the undergraduate community.”

Dozens of emails were exchanged on house lists over the issue, with many students harshly criticizing the UC’s role. The Willey and Martel tickets share the view that the UC failed to deal effectively with the administration, but they disagree on what action the UC should have taken.

In Willey’s view, more student involvement and a harder line from the UC would have ensured the preservation of party grants, which provided reimbursement for alcohol. “Sundquist should have set up a student committee from the very beginning,” Willey said. “It was utter incompetence from the start.” In the debate organized by the Harvard Dems, Willey said that his ticket “will not settle” on the party grant issue, and he has promised that he will get the “real party grant” back.

Martel said that while she is not happy with the party grant resolution, the “focus on small things is not important” and the bigger issue is changing the “haughty” tone that the UC has used with the administration. Martel said that her administration would use a more diplomatic approach, reminiscent of past UC president John Haddock ’07, in its dealings with the administration. She argued that the UC should “accept its position in relation to the administration while still speaking for the student body.”

For his part, Sundquist stressed that party grants are “still an open issue,” and that the agreement will be renegotiated at the beginning of next semester. Sundquist said that the UC had no choice but to compromise with the administration because the University had frozen all funds for Harvard’s twelve House Committees and hundreds of student groups. “The student’ groups and HoCos know that the UC did what was needed,” said Sundquist. Sarafa conceded that negotiations with the administration weren’t ideal, and said that “we [the UC] could have sat down at the negotiation table earlier with the administration.”

The candidates agree that changes need to be made with regard to a number of larger issues, such as textbooks and ad-board reform. Nevertheless, the candidates’ platforms are not without their differences.

One deviation lies in student funding. Both Martel and Willey said that they would like to offer funds to individual students and unofficial groups, while Sundquist dismissed the idea, saying that the “UC only has a finite amount of money” and that “you can’t give money to anyone who wants it.”

And while Willey and Sundquist have spent much of their time talking about college-wide reforms and changes they would make as president of the UC, Martel has placed emphasis on reforming the UC itself. In an interview with On Harvard Time, a comedy news show produced by Harvard students, she said that the first thing she would do as UC President would be to eliminate parliamentary procedure, instead favoring a more informal, section-like environment. Martel called the current system a “tedious process” that people exploit and that creates an “elite” within the UC. In the same interview, Martel questioned the very nature of the UC as a governing body, asking whether the UC should “function as legislature” and have the right to “make legal documents.”

One thing that the candidates have in common is the belief that they are best qualified to represent the student body. Sundquist points to the experience that he and Sarafa have with the UC and the relationships they have built with University administrators, claiming that the difference between their ticket and the other two is that they “have the experience and knowledge” to accomplish their goals.

Willey and Snow see their lack of experience as an advantage. In an interview with On Harvard Time, Snow stated, “We’re not friends with all the administrators. We’re not coddling with them. We’re going to go in there and try to do the job that the students want us to do.”

Martel has also highlighted her ticket’s outsider status, telling the Crimson that their ticket is “completely different. We’re coming in as outsiders.” She told On Harvard Time anchor Derek Flanzraich that her ticket has “authenticity.” She added, “I am a real student who cares about other students because I am one of them.”

Voting has been open on the Undergraduate Council website since Monday and will close tomorrow at noon.

Correction appended: Leo Zimmermann’s name was incorrectly spelled in the original version of this article. TheIndependent regrets the error.