Students at Harvard Kennedy School of Government will graduate with a master’s degree in public policy or public administration. But first, they are struggling to perfect the election of a new student government.
The Kennedy School Student Government race had all the ingredients of a real-world election: stress, apathy, frustration, and IT issues.
After the electoral slate was revealed, the students learned that the candidates were competing for many positions – including that of president – and tried to reopen the nominations without success. Then, two hours after the polls opened, the Election Commission realized that dozens of students had been left in the dark about the election process because they had not been added to the email list.
Imogen M. A. Hubei, the interim student government chair of HKS and Bihani M. Kirkpatrick, the interim vice president, announced in an email to the student body on Tuesday that they had suspended and dissolved the elections due to an IT failure.
“We will adjust the timetable for this year’s election and reopen the nomination process for this year’s fall election to all students,” they wrote. “This decision was made in consultation with HKS management.”
HKS spokeswoman Sophia C. Cabalquinto confirmed in a statement Wednesday that first-year public administration students have not received emails about the election due to an IT error at the Kennedy School.
“We apologize for the error and have put in place fail-safe procedures so that it doesn’t happen again,” Capalquinto wrote. “The election process is subject to self-governance by the KSSG, but we support their decision to pause and reopen the elections next week to ensure all students can participate.”
Voting for the new elections will be held from Sept. 27 to Sept. 28. Nominations opened on Tuesday and closed on Wednesday. Candidates who confirm their nominations will be allowed to start their campaign on Friday.
Jose J. said: Altamirano, a second-year master’s student in public policy, said the elections suffered from “a perfect storm of circumstances and a lack of public knowledge regarding election regulations.”
Kirkpatrick said she received numerous inquiries about whether “re-opening nominations is possible or whether initiating a written nomination is possible” after polling revealed only one candidate for student body presidency.
“But there are many things that the regulations prohibit, including the election commission changing its regulations,” said Kirkpatrick, who works for the Election Commission. “And as a result, we weren’t able to move forward on a lot of those things that the students were interested in.”
While student government bylaws barred new nominations, they did allow the addition of a “none” option to the ballot for uncontested positions, a job that was not used erroneously last year, according to Kirkpatrick.
“Students can vote for the nominee and give those non-objectionable candidates a mandate or indicate that they do not wish the nominee to serve, an option required by the bylaws,” Kirkpatrick said.
Omar Mohamed Awad, a mid-career first-year MBA student, was the only candidate for president before the election was suspended.
“The operation weakened me and I tried to make a difference [sic] “I am myself from what people say and they attack the candidate undisputedly,” Awad said.
“I didn’t even object to the idea of Hessa Doroob when they added it,” Awad said, referring to the “nothing” option. “Although the bylaws don’t really say anything about undisputed positions.”
Alexander R. said: Cooper, a sophomore at the MPA, said he believed Hobby and Kirkpatrick were “responding to and receiving cues” from the Kennedy School principals.
“That’s a pretty big red flag for me,” Cooper said. “I believe that student government should be separate from the administration, not as weapons to enforce the administration’s policies and preferences.”
“It has always been standard practice for committees to consult with officials in order to draw upon their institutional memory of the election process,” Hopi wrote in a statement Thursday evening.
“In the end, Bethany and I made and took responsibility for all decisions, carefully referring to the bylaws, and there was no situation where officials would tell us what we are allowed and what we are not allowed to do,” Hobe wrote.
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.
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