The Student Government Presidential Debate

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This year’s Student Government election features “a real race for the presidency,” according to outgoing president Michael Sevi. The Record asked the two candidates, Kathryn Baugher and Nick Smyth about their visions for HLS, and why you should tune in and vote for them on March 20th.

1. What would be the goals of your presidency? What’s a change you really want to make?

Baugher:1) Find out, through both formal and informal means, what students want us to work on.2) Implement as many of those ideas as possible.When choosing among potential projects, I would like to see the Student Government focus on realistic ideas with broad impact.

Smyth:First, I support making the grading and examination system more open and predictable. We should know the schedule and the type of exams for every class before we choose our classes, what classes are curved, and what classes and clinicals are pass/fail and why. We should allow students to schedule their own take-home exams for any day during exam week. Also, I think the time has come to conduct a new study of the grading system. As part of a broad study in 1999, McKinsey recommended a HP/P/LP/F grading system, but the Faculty voted it down. I propose a committee of students and faculty members to consider this and other potential reforms to the grading system and issue a report and recommendations by November.Second, I think that HLS is suffering from a major crisis, which has gone unaddressed by the administration, Sodexho, and the Student Government for far too long. I am speaking, of course, of the lack of a hot dog vendor anywhere on campus. It is a travesty that HLS considers itself a top law school but lacks a hot dog cart. I also am working with Sodexho to put a food cart into Austin (and possibly Pound) that would operate during lunch time all year round.Internally, I want to make the Student Government a more important and effective organization. If elected, I will support a policy that requires each Representative to host biannual town hall meetings with their 1L sections or their 2L or 3L classmates. These small fora, which I envision during lunch time with free food, would force every representative to take an energetic role in listening to-and, I hope, acting on-student concerns.

2. What’s the LSC achievement of the past year that you’re most proud of?

Baugher:I think our greatest achievement this year was increasing communication by actively soliciting ideas from student body. In fact, many of the projects listed in both of our candidate statements are taken directly from the results of the survey I sent out last winter asking students what they would like us to work on.

Smyth:I’m proud of our role in increasing Summer Public Interest Funding, which was my top priority when I joined the Student Government. I polled the student body and found broad support for an increase in SPIF, particularly in the second summer. I put together a team of students to research the policies at other schools. Within the Student Government, I got help from David Kessler, Kathryn Baugher, and Michael Sevi. I met with senior members of the administration, including the Dean, to push for an increase. Not long afterwards, SPIF was increased from $4,500 to $5,000 and $5,500 for first and second summer, respectively. I will bring similar persistence and creativity to the job of President. I’m also proud of our role in getting Hemenway’s hours extended. I hope that will help to alleviate some of the crowding problems.

3. We’re going to be honest: We think a lot of students see student government at the law school as a group that either does silly things (like the flap over naming the 1L sections) or things that aren’t a very big deal (like soy milk for the coffee). What’s your response to that sentiment?

Baugher:In general, we try to focus on issues that students care about, whether those issues are large or small. This month I began to work on getting the perpetually broken Crimson Card readers around campus fixed. It might not be something to write home about, but it will make life here more convenient on a daily basis. When bigger issues arise, we do our best to address them as well. For example, last spring the administration was floating the idea of cutting off wireless Internet access during class. Stephanie Wiebe and I surveyed the student body to see how students felt about the proposal, and 1057 students responded. I pulled together more than 30 pages of student comments and submitted them to the faculty and administration so that they could make an informed decision.

Smyth:First, if I am elected I will do my best to make clear that we are focusing on the big changes that are crucial to improving the experience at HLS. Second, we are partly responsible for our reputation. If students haven’t seen big changes coming out of Student Government action over the past couple of years, it’s because we’re not being innovative and bold enough to push for such change. Creating a very public and important committee to review the grading system at HLS is one way to show that we are doing important and serious work. Finally, there are plenty of little things we do that make a difference in people’s lives even if they don’t know it. When we get a Crimson cash machine installed in the Hark or more copies of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal delivered to campus, students will benefit, but they might not know who made it happen. Still, as long as they are better off, we don’t need to worry about getting all the credit.

4. To follow up on that: Is there much turnout for student government elections? Why should HLS students care about and get involved with student government, especially when we have what seems to be one of the most responsive administrations of any law school?

Baugher:Students should care about Student Government precisely because we have an especially responsive administration. Everyone has ideas about how to improve our Harvard Law School experience, and the members of the Student Government are dedicated to following up on those ideas so that you don’t have to. Given that our membership is drawn from all of the classes, we are also able to approach the administration with greater force than a single student.

Smyth:I hope that my active and visible campaign, which is organizing students from many groups and all class years, will lead to a higher level of turnout in the past. In my mind, the key to getting people to care is convincing them that we will work on issues that are important to them, that we will address their concerns, and that we will not be afraid to challenge the administration and reach for things that previous Student Governments might have not have tried to do. It is precisely because the administration is so responsive that students should care about Student Government. Deans Kagan and Cosgrove and the Faculty need somebody to turn to when they are considering how to improve student life on campus. My fellow Representatives and I want to do the hard work and research that is necessary to, for instance, getting the Administration to do a comprehensive review of the grading system. Moreover, I think that the Administration rightly takes the concerns put forth by the Student Government more seriously than those sent in by individual students because they know that we have already polled the student body, done the research, and deliberated on how best to approach a problem.

5. To put it simply: Why you?

Baugher:I have more experience, which I think is essential for two reasons. The first is credibility. Nick and I both have good ideas, but I have a history of hard work. People know that they can rely on me. The second reason is knowledge. I have worked on a wide variety of projects, from advocacy to event planning, so I know the people and the processes necessary to get things done. Under my leadership, the Student Government could act on ideas quickly without reinventing the wheel.

Smyth:As I described above, my experience leading the charge to increase SPIF and on improvements to the
Hark taught me how to advocate on behalf of students and work with the Administration. I am willing to reach higher and push harder to make the changes that matter. And I care about these issues whether or not I win this election. Unlike my opponent, I am committed to continue serving on Student Government even if I do not win the job of President.My previous experiences in politics have taught me the importance of persistence and diplomacy. Prior to law school, I spent five months working for the Kerry-Edwards campaign as an Advance Staffer. My job involved flying into a new city each week to put together massive rallies while balancing the often competing interests of staff at the Headquarters, the Field office, and the local politicians. Before the Kerry campaign, on the Harvard Crimson editorial board, I gained experience investigating issues that were important to students and lobbying for change. I hope that I’ll be able to use my skills to broker compromise and build support for reforms that I believe will make life here more enjoyable and fulfilling.

6. Anything else you want to say to the student body?

Baugher:Student can check out my candidate statement online for more information (www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/sgov/statements_sp07.php). I would also be happy to respond to questions via e-mail kbaugher@law.harvard.edu.

Smyth:For more information on all of my ideas on how to make HLS a better place and Student Government a more effective body, please visit my Facebook group “Smyth for President.”And for the sake of all of the students, faculty, alumni, and staff who suffer from the dearth of Hot Dog Carts here on campus, please vote for me.

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