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Amid Turmoil, Dean of Students Dunne Rebuffs Calls to Abolish HUA

Dean of Students Thomas Dunne speaks to Crimson reporters in a March interview. Dunne said he would not support abolishing the HUA.
Dean of Students Thomas Dunne speaks to Crimson reporters in a March interview. Dunne said he would not support abolishing the HUA. By Addison Y. Liu
By Madeleine A. Hung and Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College Dean of Students Thomas Dunne said he would not endorse abolishing the Harvard Undergraduate Association or its co-presidency in a Wednesday interview with The Crimson, calling student governance “really important.”

“For the HUA specifically, I do think that it is very useful for me, as someone in an administrative role — particularly one that is student focused — to be able to go to and work with a group of students that have a mandate of, all things being equal, ‘This group was selected by the student body writ large,’” Dunne said.

Dunne’s comments come one week after the HUA’s 2024 elections, in which one co-presidential ticket ran on a platform to eliminate the co-president position, while another pair — which was suspended before the election — ran with the goal of dissolving the HUA altogether.

Discontent is not new to Harvard’s student government. In 2022, students elected Michael Y. Cheng ’22, who vowed to dissolve the Undergraduate Council, the HUA’s 40-year-old predecessor. Following Cheng’s election, students overwhelmingly voted to abolish the body in a March 2022 referendum.

Its successor, the HUA, has been plagued with the same problems of low voter turnout and student perceptions of infighting — raising questions about whether Harvard needs an undergraduate student government in the first place.

But Dunne said abolishing Harvard’s student government for the second time in three years would be ill-advised.

“Ultimately, I would not personally endorse the concept of ‘These things should be abolished,’” Dunne said.

“I do think student governance is really important,” Dunne added. “I think it’s critically important in a place that is also developing people to be in positions of leadership after they graduate.”

The HUA election came after the Fox Club, one of Harvard’s exclusive final clubs, expelled outgoing HUA Co-President John S. Cooke ’25 over misconduct allegations. Following his expulsion, students successfully petitioned for an election to recall Cooke, which is set to begin Thursday.

Cooke denied the allegations — calling them “dirty campaign tricks” and “vile accusations” — and objected to the recall vote in a Wednesday op-ed published in The Crimson.

Eight years ago, Cooke, his co-president Shikoh M. Hirabayashi ’24, and incoming co-president Jonathan Haileselassie ’26 would have all been ineligible to hold the co-presidency due to their membership in final clubs. In 2016, the College instituted sanctions on student members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations, including the inability to hold leadership positions in student groups.

The College reversed course in 2020 following a Supreme Court decision on sex discrimination and amid lawsuits over the sanction policy in state and federal court, clearing the way for undergraduates in final clubs to lead officially recognized student organizations.

When asked about this policy in the context of this year’s HUA elections, Dunne said he would be “open to hearing from more students” who have opinions on the candidacy of final club members.

“What does it mean for a person who is seeking a position to represent everybody to be part of an organization that’s not open to everybody? I think those are really interesting questions,” Dunne said.

Still, he declined to take a firm stance on matters of student government, saying it should be up to students themselves.

“At the end of the day, student governance and representation is the domain responsibility of students,” he added. “So in some ways, it’s immaterial if Tom Dunne has a position about this one way or the other.”

Dunne also said he is unfamiliar with final clubs, beyond living near some of their clubhouses in Harvard Square.

“This is a very interesting conversation for me, because it’s one of the most detailed conversations about the final clubs I’ve had,” Dunne said of Wednesday’s interview.

Dunne went on to compare final clubs to Felipe’s Taqueria, a popular Mexican restaurant in Harvard Square.

“These are independent organizations in a way that Felipe’s is an independent organization,” Dunne said.

“I certainly can understand how, when students think about their non-academic experience at Harvard, this would be part of it,” he added.

—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

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