UPDATED: April 12, 2023, at 1:20 p.m.
Months after allegations of financial mismanagement in a Harvard student organization, the Dean of Students Office is set to conduct an audit of Harvard independent student organizations in conjunction with Harvard’s risk management office.
A two-month Crimson investigation into the Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative found that the club was missing thousands of dollars following the departure of its former president. In an interview Thursday, DSO administrators did not specify whether the audit was related to HUFPI, and they did not comment on the specific allegations against its former president, Sama E.N. Kubba ’24.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo wrote that conversations around an audit of the student organization system began in the fall, with the DSO engaging the Office of Risk Management at the beginning of the spring semester. The audit was not prompted by the HUFPI financial dispute, Palumbo wrote.
DSO administrators said the audit will examine the system at large and will not look at any groups’ finances, maintaining that the DSO will not exercise greater financial oversight over independent student groups.
At the time of The Crimson’s investigation, DSO Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason R. Meier said the College’s financial policies for clubs are guidelines that are not strictly enforced, a view that he reaffirmed in the interview Thursday.
“We would never have more financial oversight of an independent student organization’s funds,” Meier said. “We have no way to compel an independent student organization that has raised money on their own to tell them how to spend their funds.”
Meier said the DSO — rather than reevaluating oversight policies — is working to take an “inward view of the student organization ecosystem,” including the audit of independent student organizations in partnership with Harvard’s risk management office.
The audit will help the DSO become more familiar with the logistics of student organizations, including budget sizes, international travel, and federal nonprofit status, according to Meier.
“When we have a better understanding of the ecosystem — because we do not have a good understanding — we’ll then be able to customize training in a meaningful way to support our organizations,” Meier said.
Interim Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 pointed to a current resource guide available that outlines “best practices” for student organizations.
Meier said the DSO’s hands-off policy aims to allow undergraduates the space and opportunity to run their organizations autonomously.
Asked about the DSO’s approach to the HUFPI financial dispute, Meier declined to give specifics, but said the office aims to provide support when students need it.
“At the end of the day, HUFPI is an independent student organization, and so we honor and respect that,” Meier said.
“We have to balance that line of supporting but still giving you the autonomy — to learn, to grow, to fail, to succeed — to do all of those things,” he added.
Administrators from the Dean of Students Office also discussed the following topics:
Progress of the HUA
Meier said the difference between the Harvard Undergraduate Association and the Undergraduate Council — its recently dissolved predecessor — is “night and day.”
“I am so impressed with the atmosphere, with the care, with the intentionality and thoughtfulness of the HUA leaders in building an inclusive place where they can have hard conversations about life on campus and how we make it better,” Meier said. “That was not happening with the UC.”
Associate Dean for Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro said the HUA has been able to address issues the UC left unfinished, citing the HUA’s goal of increasing accessibility to students outside of the body.
“I do feel that folks in the HUA have tried to build on the best parts of the UC,” Mauro said.
The student body elected new officers to the HUA in February during an election cycle that included seven uncontested races and roughly 26 percent turnout.
Meier attributed the number of uncontested races to the “overwhelming” student experience, adding that he does not believe this is unique to Harvard’s campus.
Mauro said she believes low turnout could indicate student satisfaction with the HUA.
“I imagine if people were in a rage about the HUA’s failings so far, more people would've turned out,” she said.
Comaroff Protest in University Hall
Last month, activists occupied University Hall — home to the offices of top DSO administrators — in protest of Harvard’s Title IX policies and the continued employment of professor John L. Comaroff, who is accused of sexual harassment.
During the protest, students spoke directly to Brandt and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana to share their concerns. In the Thursday interview, Brandt did not comment on whether she supported the protesters’ demands.
“We are here to support students in terms of the concerns and questions that they’re raising and to figure out how to meet the needs that they’re expressing as best we can,” Brandt said.
Meier said that administrators from the DSO “deeply value the freedom of expression and the rights of free speech.”
“That is paramount to the work we do in the Dean of Students Office and it manifests in any number of ways,” Meier said. “This is just one of those ways.”