Student Representative Board Officer Positions Uncontested, Only Two Contested Positions

All but two of the positions on the new Student Representative Board are uncontested, making Lisa Lana, ’14, the Board’s new President; Andrew London, ’14, the Board’s new Vice President; and Valerie Duchesneau, ’14, the new Director of Student Organizations.

The only contested elections will be that for 1L Section 1 Representative and LLM Representative.  There are 10 positions with no declared candidates: four 1L Section Representative positions, two 2L Representative positions, and four 3L Representative positions.

Two 1L sections had only one declared candidate, making those positions uncontested. Only two students have declared their candidacy for the four positions of 2L Representative.

State, National and Regionally-Focused Student Organizations: A Win-Win Scenario

The world is rapidly changing, and Harvard Law School must keep pace. Global flows of people, goods, and ideas, fueled by technological advances, are merging the local and the global. Harvard University is responding. President Drew Faust has on several occasions expressed her commitment to intensifying the internationalization of Harvard. Internationally trained academics are assuming leading positions at the University. Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School, completed his chemical engineering and management training in India and the United States respectively.

Harvard Law School is also changing. For the first time ever, over 10 percent of this year’s J.D. class comes from countries other than the United States.  Formal partnerships, exchange programs and cross-institutional degree and diploma granting arrangements offer students and faculty unprecedented opportunities for global engagement.  The “Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies” project led by the Program on the Legal Profession, the Institute for Global Law and Policy and a series of projects with Sciences Po Law School concerning transnational private law and Franco-American Legal influence afford students and faculty greater facility for global dialogue and networking.

Unfortunately, our Law School has recently taken a huge step backwards. In early February, the current Student Government adopted a bylaw stating it now has a “default of not accepting applicants for student organizations that are based on national, state or regional identity or degree status.” The recent “sharp increase” in the number of student groups seeking such recognition is a natural consequence of the changing face of HLS. At the very moment this Law School should be fostering global student initiatives, Student Government has shut them down.

Two arguments have been consistently raised in defense of this By-Law: one relating to resource limits and allocation, the other related to event overload.  I will address each in turn.

The first is essentially a floodgates argument.  If students from every country or region represented at HLS decided to seek formal recognition as a student association, our current level of resources would not be sufficient to fund them all.  Moreover, the recognition of new student organizations has been presented as a “zero sum game.” For every student organization recognized, the smaller the budget for each existing organization.

First, the money issue. Of course, resources are limited. The question is whether the current allocation of funds for student organizations should be open to discussion, transparency, and possible amendment, particularly in view of some of Student Government’s other questionable expenditures.  Moreover, most student organizations undertake their own fundraising initiatives.  Student contacts with law firms and institutions from emerging regions that have not historically given to HLS represent an opportunity for more revenue, not less. The Global Legal Education Forum, for example, received significant financial support from Brazilian law firms and institutions as a result of student outreach.  This situation can be a win-win for all, if we could only have the opportunity for our ideas to be heard.

Moreover, much of what is involved in student association recognition is not financial, but simply institutional. You cannot book a room for more than 20 people, order catering or media services, design and print posters or create a student organization website without formal recognition. Without recognition, interested students must rely on ad hoc relationships with existing student organizations and attempt to coordinate logistics, funding, and communication through another Board.  This is simply unworkable for any sustained series of events.

The second argument asserts that there are already too many events taking place at the law school. Too many e-mails, posters and free pizza. Allowing more students to organize and develop initiatives will only flood our heads, schedules, and inboxes.

How many events are “too many”? Maybe there are too many events overall, but not enough events for some causes and way too many for others. Who gets to decide? It should not be by Student Government fiat.  Students should be incentivized to associate and engage in important and exciting projects, like those organized frequently by the Asia Law Society, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Southeast Asian Law Students Association, and African Law Association, to name a few. The problem of inbox flooding can be solved with different rules for the use of listservs. With the Wasserstein Caspersen Clinical building, physical space is no longer an issue.  New technologies greatly increase the possibilities for pursuing global initiatives that reach beyond the law school.

Certainly, the Law School should not adopt an “open gate” policy of granting immediate recognition to any proposed student organization.  Clear criteria need to exist to help distinguish seriousness from opportunism, even if the boundaries may not always be clear.  But, geographic affiliation or focus should not be an a priori disqualifier.  Initiatives should be judged by their substantive merit and the seriousness of those behind it.  And Student Government already has the capacity under current rules to review the activity level of student organizations and wind those down that have become inactive over time.

I have recently worked with a team of students for over a year and a half to gain recognition for the Brazilian Studies Association.  We experienced resistance from Student Government throughout, despite our commitment to pursuing a serious agenda of social, economic and legal engagement on issues of relevance to Brazil and the United States. We were eventually recognized, but the door was closed behind us. Two other serious and engaging student groups subsequently sought recognition with a regional focus and were apparently rejected. This is a step in the wrong direction.

Legal education and the legal profession are changing. Global student associations provide all of us the opportunity to learn and engage across borders. We all benefit from this.

The University is going global. The Law School is trying to keep up. The Student Government should do its part.

Gustavo Ribeiro, S.J.D. candidate, is the President of the HLS Brazilian Studies Association. Lisa Kelly, S.J.D. Candidate, also contributed to this piece. 

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record.

Student Government Upstages Parody

When I first saw The Record story describing the Student Government equivalent of the Midnight Judges scandal (well, equivalent if President Adams had tried to appoint himself to Congress), I thought it had to be a mistake.  Surely no HLS student could possibly fail to discern the two obvious lessons of the recent presidential election: (1) the student body wants transparency and change in Student Government and (2) the student body is sick of members of Student Government acting immaturely, as when the presidential candidates were hurling inane insults at each other.

Contrary to all common sense, however, a note on the amendment apparently added by its drafter(s) reads, “expire Commencement 2012?,” suggesting that the amendment might only apply in this particular year for these particular people. This amendment would overrule an amendment dating back an entire month mandating that terms end on April 1.

Let’s dispense quickly of the idea that the move is a Chavezian power grab.  It’s far more puerile and obvious than that. At least Hugo Chavez had the decency to propose permanent changes to the Venezuelan constitution and manipulate an ostensibly democratic referendum to enact those changes. This modification of the Student Government constitution would be a one-off bit of chicanery, a bitter and blatant attempt to put one past the pococurante electorate.

The very idea reeks of entitlement and disrespect for the electoral will of the student body. Indeed, HLS Student Government has slipped the surly bonds of reason and reached the stratospheric incompetence of an even pettier version of Chavezian dictatorship. At this rate of descent into stupidity, we’re mere days away from the Student Government KGB airbrushing Daniel Vargas from Student Government photographs and 1L Section Representatives being called upon to inform on their comrades’ dalliances with Gelfandism.

I was very glad to hear that the amendments were voted down last night following the organization of a Facebook movement by the Gelfand campaign to bring attendees to the meeting to protest the measures. Then maybe we can put this absurd chapter of HLS history behind us and the next class can start rebuilding after the destructive electoral and constitutional shenanigans that constituted the true Parody of 2012.

John Thorlin is a 3L. His column runs Thursdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.

Student Government Proposals to Extend Some Members’ Terms, Increase Transparency

A series of amendments to Student Government’s Constitution have been proposed that, if passed, could extend some current members’ terms; mandate disclosure of bylaws, meeting minutes and attendance logs; and limit access to meetings, according to e-mails leaked to The Record.

An anonymous source leaked the proposed amendments, accessible via hyperlink, to The Record. The amendments appeared to have been sent to Student Government members a little before 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

Although Matt Gelfand, Law ’12, was elected Student Government President, on March 7, his term, under the current Constitution, Article III, Section 1, does not start until April 1. The proposed amendment to Article IX, Section 1(6) would permit the current President and Vice President to “participate in Student Government Meetings as Emerita Board members” from April 1 to Commencement. If passed, this amendment could allow the current President  and Vice President to, under Article X, Section 2(3), vote for or against bylaws and constitutional amendments even after Gelfand started his term as President. A note on that amendment apparently by its drafter reads, “expire Commencement 2012?” and “I don’t care as much about the last one, but am concerned about what will happen to unfinished projects and questions that arise that would suggest continued membership in some capacity would be helpful”.

If the proposed amendment to Article II(B) is passed, current Directors would serve until Commencement, not April 1, as the current Constitution’s Article IV, Section 2 provides. A note, presumably by its drafter, reads, “so [a current Director] can oversee [Student Funding Board] proceedings, etc.” If passed, the amendment would revert Directors’ terms to their original  pre-February 15 durations, with terms ending at Commencement. On February 15 of this year, however, a unanimous Student Government voted to amend the Constitution so that terms would end on April 1.

“It is unconscionable to me that the same Student Government that amended its own Constitution to provide for an earlier transition may now undo that change after a non-incumbent won the election.” Gelfand said, “I urge the members of Student Government, if for no other reason than to maintain the legitimacy of the organization, to vote against this amendment. I urge members of the student body to attend [Wednesday’s] meeting to voice their opinions on this proposed amendment, which could seriously impair my ability to obtain the change that they voted for.”

The proposed amendment to Article IX, Section 2 provides that attendance records, meeting minutes, and amendments to the Constitution or Bylaws will be published on the website promptly.

A proposed amendment to Article IX, Section 1 would close meetings to “members of the public unless decided in advance by the President,” but keep meetings “open to all members of the Harvard Law School community.” It also provides, “visitors may not participate in the meetings in any form or act to distract Student Government members in any way.”

The General Body Meeting in which the proposed amendments are scheduled to be discussed is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

The Record attempted to contact members of Student Government whose names appeared on the proposed amendments at approximately 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, but none commented on the record on the substance of the proposed amendments.

The proposed amendments are accessible here. Names of students were redacted by The Record. 

Correction (3 p.m. March 21): A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Student Government is scheduled to vote on the amendments Wednesday night. The proposals are scheduled to be discussed.