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Low voter turnout, uncontested positions, and Sidechat scandals, oh my! For the second-ever time since the dissolution of the four-decade-old Undergraduate Council last spring, the Harvard Undergraduate Association concluded an election featuring an all-too-familiar menagerie of beasts — and unfortunately, it looks like no amount of tapping our ruby slippers together will allow us to escape.
From the HUA to its predecessor, our apathy is a structural feature of these elections, rather than their particular exception. In each cycle, Harvard students wonder how so much toxicity can surround an organization so detached from their lives.
It appears that the HUA does not truly ‘govern’ the study body, in any practical sense of the term. Stuck as the intermediary between Harvard’s administration and its mass of students, the HUA has a cramped area of power to enact policy in. While we value the HUA’s prior advocacy in bringing us low-cost summer storage, textbook stipends, and a professional clothing closet, it is only one among many organizations that meaningfully change our campus.
Nor do its members serve as venerable ideological or ethical leaders for the student body — this would stray too far from their role description. We look not to the HUA, but to a diverse mosaic of clubs and Houses more representative of our individual values and experiences, to direct our day-to-day and overarching ambitions.
Instead, the primary function of the HUA is pecuniary: allocating the hundreds of thousands of dollars generated by our term-billed Student Activities Fees to various student initiatives and organizations.
There are those who would relegate club funding to the Dean of Students Office for the neutrality and maturity its adults hold. But we believe that a centralized funding body should remain in the hands of students who can speak to undergraduate needs — as long as they withdraw from other organizations to diminish conflicts of interest. While neutral on face, a University administrator making value judgements about which student-led initiatives deserve to stay afloat each year is a perilous system.
Ironically, we may have the HUA itself to thank for helping us realize its true purpose. When the HUA constitution dissolved the prior UC-led system of House and Yard representation, the illusion of a representative entity dissolved as well. This recent election, just slightly over a quarter of undergraduates could be bothered to fill out a ballot that was, given its virtual nature, literally delivered to the palms of their hands; plus, all but one non-presidential officer election ended up uncontested.
Such a student government cannot be said to represent our vast student body — but we can hold it accountable for funding.
For too long, the central funding function has been drowned out by campaigns encapsulated by performative gestures and unnecessary character attacks. A fiery, sensationalized campaign season exemplifies the glorification of the humble, dull work we want from the HUA, and the toxicity this overemphasis invites.
We hope that a reprioritization of funding as the HUA’s singular responsibility can redeem the student body’s perception of student government. The current hatred of the HUA actively hurts the credibility of the opt-in Student Activities Fee, potentially disincentivizing students from investing in the one operation that student government should perform and that all students benefit from.
To protect and prioritize this essential function of the HUA, the administration should cover the Student Activities Fee with financial aid. At the same time, the ability of the administration to restore our engagement with a form of student government that has been marred by controversy in each of its lifetimes is limited. It’s up to students to reject the illusion that the HUA’s dominion extends beyond the monetary. It’s time to recognize the student government behind the curtain for what it really is.
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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