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Judge Rules Against Theo Harper ’25 in Harvard IRC Lawsuit Following Removal Over ‘Stress Test’

The Cambridge District Court ruled against Theo Harper on April 10 following his dispute with the Harvard International Relations Council.
The Cambridge District Court ruled against Theo Harper on April 10 following his dispute with the Harvard International Relations Council. By Sami E. Turner
By Madeleine A. Hung and Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge District Court ruled against Theo J. Harper ’25 in a small claims lawsuit against the Harvard International Relations Council on April 10.

Harper — who represented himself in an April 9 hearing — sued the IRC in February after the organization temporarily removed him from membership for redirecting $170,000 of the group’s income to an unofficial bank account in what he called a “financial stress test.”

During the hearing, Harper argued that his removal from the IRC was in violation of state law and resulted in a personal financial impact of $7,000, the maximum claim in the Massachusetts small claims court. Per small claims procedure, Harper has no right of appeal following the court’s April 10 decision in favor of the IRC.

Harvard College spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo declined to comment for this article, citing a policy against commenting on “student-specific matters.”

“We also remind student organizations that the College is not responsible for managing/directing finances for our independent student organizations and advise them to seek outside counsel when necessary,” Palumbo wrote.

Mitchell J. Perne, the lawyer representing the IRC, was joined in court by Solene Aubert ’24, who served as president of the IRC at the time of Harper’s removal. Judge James R. Ferraro presided over the case.

The IRC — a student-run 501(c)(3) non-profit and umbrella organization that oversees six constituent groups — removed Harper in December after an emergency board meeting vote. The group’s bylaws currently state that a member may be removed “at any time by the vote of the Board of Directors.”

But Harper argued his removal violated Massachusetts law, specifically referring to a section that requires charitable organizations to hold a majority vote before expelling members. The IRC did not hold a general meeting across its full membership to remove Harper, he argued, instead removing him based on a board of directors vote.

Perne contested Harper’s application of the Massachusetts law, which explicitly refers to expulsion, while Harper was only temporarily removed. Harper then argued that his removal was a “de facto” expulsion, pointing to the use of “expulsion” in the IRC bylaw the group cited to remove him.

Harper also pointed to a “recently received notification from a lawyer” that he will be required to undergo the “comp” process — by which new members join the IRC’s constituent programs — to return to the organization, a decision he said proved his expulsion.

“They would be asking me to re-go through a process where there would be, for example, a three-quarters chance I would not be admitted at the end,” Harper said, referring to the IRC’s competitive entrance process, “which as far as I can understand only makes sense if they think I have had my membership completely removed, rather than suspended.”

The IRC’s actions regarding Harper’s reinstatement were a result of “many discussions” with the Harvard Dean of Students’ Office, according to Aubert.

“Throughout this process, I was in close communication with the Harvard Police Department, as well as the Harvard administration, to make sure that we were in compliance with their regulations,” Aubert said during the hearing. “They were the ones that advised a temporary removal, suspension, whatever the word that they used — and that is what we went for.”

According to a person familiar with the hearing and reinstatement process, the DSO was not able to advise the IRC on legal matters, instead referring them to external counsel.

In addition to wrongful removal, Harper also argued that he was owed financial compensation for his preparation and withheld participation in IRC-run conferences Harvard Model United Nations, Harvard National Model United Nations, and Harvard Model United Nations India.

Harper said there were “implicit contracts” between him and the United Nations groups, claiming his removal from the IRC caused him to lose out on food, accommodations, a stipend, and a “paid retreat” to Thailand for following the conference.

Ferraro clarified during the hearing that since the IRC is a charitable organization, Harper would not typically be paid for his work.

Harper said that throughout the process of his removal, he did not hear directly from the IRC about how long his suspension would last, instead receiving communications solely from College administrators.

“I haven’t received anything from them, I’ve only received things via Harvard’s Dean of Students Office, who have been attempting to mediate this process,” Harper said.

Though the “financial stress test” that caused Harper’s removal was not the focus of the trial, Ferraro also questioned Harper about the exercise.

“The elephant in the room is, why did they remove you?” Ferraro asked.

In response, Harper said he aimed to “test the internal financial mechanisms for protecting the organization’s assets,” adding that he was inspired to do so by a financial security scandal last Spring in the Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative, for which Harper was senior director of finance at the time.

In a statement to The Crimson following the court’s decision, Harper wrote that he was “glad” the four-month process, which he called “vastly overblown,” was over.

“My aim was always to ensure that the IRC’s attempt to expel me was overturned, and as a result of this suit that has been accepted by all parties,” Harper wrote.

The IRC declined to comment on the outcome of the lawsuit.

—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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