Veterans Promote Reform

It’s six o’clock on a Friday evening, and while most Harvard students are winding down after a long week, Undergraduate Council (UC) presidential candidate John F. Voith ’07 and his running mate Tara Gadgil ’07 are still hard at work. After a day of responding to questions on the Cambridge Common blog and endless endorsement meetings, Voith and Gadgil are going door to door in Matthews Hall, introducing themselves to freshmen and giving what they call their “spiel” to anyone who will listen.

Although the session has its awkward moments, including an uncomfortable exchange when Voith catches one freshman on her way to the shower—something Gadgil says “happened at least five times today”—the canvassing effort sways more than a few voters and showcases the chemistry between the members of the most experienced ticket on the ballot. (Like clockwork, Voith and Gadgil remind each suite they visit that they have a combined eight semesters of UC membership.)


“We have complementary skills that allow us to work together,” says Gadgil.

A confident but understated Biology and Public Policy concentrator, Voith is at ease the moment he sits down in the Science Center’s Greenhouse Café. Voith is charismatic without being overbearing, and is in his element throughout the interview—even pausing several times to greet passing friends, who seem to abound.

Gadgil rushes in late, having just written a response to the latest question on Cambridge Common. The government concentrator is friendly and intense and as soon as the interview starts she is all business, choosing her words carefully as she answers questions.

“When [Voith] comes into a room, everyone wants to be with him,” says Voith and Gadgil’s campaign manager Daniel A. Koh ’07. “Everyone wants to be around him, but he acts like you’re the only other person in the world.”

Koh is one of Voith’s blockmates and he went to high school with Gadgil at Phillips Academy Andover.

“I didn’t know Tara at Andover, but just because I didn’t know her doesn’t mean I didn’t know who she was,” says Koh after the first UC debate Wednesday. “Her energy is absolutely boundless. When she was in the zone, everyone paid attention.”

“She’s very aware of what’s going on around her, and very aware of her role in it,” says Anusha Deshpande ’09, Gadgil’s cousin who is also working on the campaign. “She’s goal-oriented and knows exactly how to do what she wants done.”

Recently these goals have included implementing a South Asian studies concentration and pushing for an extra admissions cycle for Tulane students.


Voith and Gadgil are advocating for social programming reform that includes better communication with the administration and less emphasis on the bureaucratic structure of the UC.

During their first two months in office, the candidates propose to assess student opinion by running a comprehensive review of Harvard social life.

They are also promoting the installation of free cable television and free printing for course work.

Neither Voith nor Gadgil had any experience in student government before arriving at Harvard, but they have become major players in the UC since their election—Voith as a freshman and Gadgil as a sophomore. This semester, Voith is serving as the chair of the Campus Life Committee (CLC), while Gadgil has headed up the Student Affairs Committee.

Given their roles as leaders of the most powerful social planning groups on campus, one of the most obvious issues facing the Voith-Gadgil campaign is the candidates’ roles in large-scale UC flops over the past couple of years. Most notable are last spring’s Havana on the Harbor cruise and Springfest Afterparty, and the cancelled Wyclef Jean concert this year.

“I am worried that the other tickets are trying to pretend and tell people that I’m responsible for things,” says Voith. “While I will say that I was on the committees during these times, I’ve learned a lot from seeing these failures take place.”

He is careful to distance himself further by explaining that he didn’t think the Havana on the Harbor cruise was a good idea at the time, that the Springfest Afterparty was orchestrated by UC leadership at the time, and that when he took office as CLC chair this year, planning for the Wyclef Jean concert was already well underway.

Voith cites his leadership of the CLC this past semester as proof that he has the ability to put on successful events, citing the pep rally before the Harvard-Yale game—with its turnout of 2,500 students—as “a perfect example.” This success was due, he says, to increased attention to student input, participation of student groups, and support from the administration.

Voith’s strong relationship with the deans is something that he has emphasized throughout his campaign. “The president’s role is to bridge the gap between the UC itself and the dean’s office,” he says. “I have a tremendous amount of experience working with the office that handles [student funding], and I know how to deal with them.”

While staying at Harvard this past summer to study organic chemistry, Voith met three or four times with Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II.

“We basically had an open discussion about what could work and what’s possible,” says Voith. He adds that, once in a leadership position, he plans to work with the dean’s office “to find a way that they can institutionalize their support for students.”


Despite recent successes, Voith and Gadgil remain frustrated by many aspects of the UC, including excessive bureaucracy that they say slows down the planning of events.

“I think that sometimes we get too focused on procedure, and the internal workings of the UC,” says Gadgil. “We don’t have a broad enough perspective on what’s going on.”

While recognizing this flaw, the UC’s recent commitment to improving its internal workings has impressed Voith.

“That’s something that’s really starting to happen this semester,” Voith says, citing a recent UC bill that would instate an independently elected student-run planning committee.

“The SEC bill is at least an acknowledgement, and I definitely acknowledge it as well, that the way we do things now internally, things aren’t set up exactly right. This type of internal change is something we haven’t seen in a long time, and it’s a big step in the right direction.”

Both Voith and Gadgil laud the work of current UC President Matthew J. Glazer ’06 (Voith counts him as a “good friend”), but the candidates stress that they are looking to breathe new life into the council.

“Every new administration brings something different to the table,” says Gadgil.

“Matt and I are two completely different people,” Voith adds. “My approach here at Harvard is one that will really allow the UC to change things up and give it a new spice that it hasn’t seen in the past.”


Voith says this fresh style has reaped benefits on the campaign trail.

“I’ve been surprised by the amount of interest that people have had because they’re so happy to see someone so unconventionally ‘UC-like’ running for president,” he says.

CLC Services Vice-Chair Nick E. Huber ’09, who has worked closely with Voith over the past semester, echoes this sentiment.

“Voith’s also a real guy outside of the UC,” says Huber, who is also working on the Voith-Gadgil campaign. “Varsity athlete, loves to have fun. Funny, charismatic, great.”

Voith swam for the varsity team in his freshman year, and has played water polo for the past two years. He is also a member of the Phoenix Club, and was named one of the 15 hottest freshmen by Fifteen Minutes two years ago.

During the debate last week, Voith was challenged by a pointed question about his final club association, and he took a long pause to fiddle with his carton of chocolate milk before discussing his role in the Phoenix.

“I’ve been very active outside the final club,” he says carefully. “It’s played a small role in my life on campus.”

Voith says that representing himself accurately has been a challenge throughout the campaign.

“The most difficult thing is to convey yourself as what you are,” says Voith, who added that political propaganda can be a powerful tool in influencing what voters think of candidates.

Voith and Gadgil were also involved in the one small scandal that has marred this year’s race. On November 19, The Crimson discovered that the domain name had been registered under Voith’s name. Voith and Gadgil maintain that the domain name was purchased by a member of their staff without consulting either candidate.

“The minute we figured out this had happened...we immediately called Haddock’s campaign,” Gadgil says, “and promised to make amends by paying for their domain name.”

“Upon first request, we transferred the website into their hands, and they’ve had control of it ever since,” adds Voith.

Despite all the politicking, however, Voith says he views the race in a broader context.

“I see running for the UC not solely as a political ambition,” Voith says. “I think it’s an ambition to do what’s best for campus. I’ve experienced so much at Harvard, and I’ve loved my time here, and I really want to give back, so that when I graduate I feel like I helped contribute to everything that goes on here.”

But for the next few hours Voith has slightly less ambitious plans.

“I need to go take a nap,” he says.