Student leaders at the Institute of Politics lauded the IOP’s decision to remove U.S. Representative Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) from its Senior Advisory Committee on Tuesday.
Stefanik’s removal was announced in a letter penned by Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf to members of the committee on Tuesday morning. More than 750 Harvard affiliates signed a petition last week urging the IOP to sever ties with Stefanik for “improperly challenging” the congressional certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory and “enabling violence” during Wednesday’s Capitol Hill riot that left five people dead.
Ryan Zhang ’21, the former chair of the IOP’s Policy Program, said he signed the petition calling for Stefanik’s removal and believes that the IOP’s decision upholds the organization’s values.
“I was reassured that the IOP would be upholding its founding ideals and those of the country,” Zhang said.
Swathi R. Srinivasan ’21, another former chair of the Policy Program who also signed the petition, said she believes the petition played an integral role in encouraging IOP leaders to consider Stefanik’s dismissal.
“I’m actually fairly confident that this petition raised an issue that either they were not previously aware of or one that they had not really known the true support for until the petition was given to them,” Srinivasan said. “I have a lot of respect for the leadership to know that they did take student concerns into account and this decision was one way in which they did that.”
Srinivasan added that while she admired Stefanik’s previous contributions to the IOP, Stefanik’s false election claims represent a “pretty grievous error” that warrant her removal.
IOP president Menat N. Bahnasy ’22 said she is confident the IOP considered “all ideas and concerns” from Harvard affiliates before reaching a decision about Stefanik’s committee membership.
“This decision wasn’t about partisan politics in any sense,” Bahnasy said. “The IOP is always going to remain committed to actively seeking and uplifting diverse perspectives and bridging divides.”
Srinivasan said that she likewise views the IOP’s decision as a nonpartisan measure of support for democracy.
“I cannot stress enough how much I believe that this is not a question of party support or a question of partisanship. This was primarily a question of integrity and of honor in our electoral system and a democracy,” Srinivasan said. “I think that that was the misstep — not that she supported any one candidate or any one party — but that she severely undermined our democracy along with the representatives and senators that did the same.”
Zhang said that he would welcome the appointment of another conservative official to the committee.
“I would have no objection to Elise Stefanik being replaced by another well-credentialed conservative. In fact, I would support it,” Zhang said.
Grace K. Bannister ’21, a former IOP director of membership, said she hopes leaders within the organization will aim to appoint another conservative official to replace Stefanik.
“I hope given that the majority of the Senior Advisory Committee are former or current elected officials of the Democratic Party that, in looking for a replacement or looking for future members of the committee, that they would look to try to find some people who are right of center — who have been exemplary public servants,” Bannister said.
Following the announcement of her removal, Stefanik posted a statement to her Twitter account claiming the decision was made in an effort to silence conservative viewpoints and “cower and cave to the woke Left.”
Zhang said reading Stefanik’s statement only strengthened his belief that the IOP made the right decision.
“I felt more convinced of my position after reading her statement,” Zhang said. “I don’t agree with her response. I don’t think that we’re silencing conservative voices. I think that all voices liberal or conservative need to respect facts.”
In addition to removing Stefanik from the Senior Advisory Committee, IOP spokesperson Kelsey A. Donohue wrote in an emailed statement that the IOP will no longer offer a position with Stefanik’s congressional office through its Director’s Internship program.
“The IOP will not offer a placement through the Director’s Internship program with Rep. Stefanik’s Washington, D.C. congressional office this summer,” Donohue wrote. “The IOP is in the process of evaluating additional internship opportunities for students this coming summer and will update the Director Internship offering in the coming weeks.”
—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @alexmkoller
—Staff writer Taylor C. Peterman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @taylorcpeterman.