Page, Sankaran Present PlatformsBy Aaron Belenky
The Undergraduate Association held a debate between the candidates for UA president and vice president on Sunday evening. The event, open to all students, gave the two teams an opportunity to present their platforms for the upcoming elections, which will be held Mar. 9.
About 20 students attended the debate.
Moderated by Umit E. Kumcuoglu '94, candidates Colin M. Page '95 and Michael R. Evans '95 debated against Vijay P. Sankaran '95 and Carrie R. Muh '96 for nearly two hours. They also fielded questions from campus press and students.
Both teams stressed a need for improved communication with undergraduates and inclusion, rather than exclusion, of students and their ideas. However, the teams disagreed on the roles of the UAP and UAVP in facilitating improvements.
In his opening statement, Sankaran said that the UA should be a "forum for for the exchange of ideas; a place where ideas can come to life." He expressed his dissatisfaction with what he called "hob-knobbing" with MIT administration and lack of real achievement. Most student governments on college campuses are more autonomous than the UA, and the UA should work to gain more freedom from the MIT administration, he said.
Muh stressed the need for the UA to increase its accessibility to students. She will "make it a top priority to solicit opinions from as many students as possible," she said.
Addressing the audience in his opening statement, Page said, "The Undergraduate Association has the potential to do a great deal of good for MIT. It is our position that this potential now is being wasted." He pointed to the UA's recent accomplishments; "The UA has spent the last several years focusing on itself," Page said.
One of Page's major goals would be to see that Finance Board allocations are directed away from the UA and more toward student groups, which he called "the life blood of the campus undergraduate body." He also said he would "set the precedent of using the Vannevar Bush ['16] fund for a project that will directly benefit the student body."
The existence of the UAP's $4,000 discretionary fund provoked much discussion when it was revealed last semester.
Page also established a goal of increasing the UA's role in preventing and addressing harassment, saying that the UA has not taken a stand on the issue. If elected, he would add the UA's voice to that of the Graduate Student Council and other groups calling for the administration to adequately address harassment at MIT, he said.
Student media pose questions
During the debate, the two teams fielded questions from members of Counterpoint, The Tech, and The Thistle.
One questions addressed the effects of new federal laws on Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program overhead funding and asked what the UA could do to lessen the blow.
Sankaran said the UA should organize letter writing campaigns to impress upon Congressional representatives the value of the UROP program. Muh went one step further and suggested that UA representatives could travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressmen directly.
Page was less sure that the UA could change laws that already exist. "The administration is going to make the rules on how the UROPs are funded," he said. "The Undergraduate Association ... can't do that much." He was also critical of Muh's idea of having students lobby directly.
Page was questioned on his earlier statement that changing the way MIT deals with harassment would be a priority if he were elected. The current problem is a lack of accountability and centralization, he said. He proposed creating a position solely for handling harassment issues, though he emphasized that the UA could only advise the MIT administration and was incapable of affecting changes on its own.
Any position adopted by the UA "should be the views of the entire student body," Muh said.
When the floor was opened to the audience, the candidates faced questions about how they would try to gain more autonomy from MIT administration and how they would encourage student participation in UA activities.
Page said that the UA should take more independent action to gain the respect of the administration.
Current UAVP Anne S. Tsao '94, questioned the candidates' commitment to what she described as a "24-hour-a-day job." Both teams stated they were prepared to make personal sacrifices to assure their term would be as productive as possible.
During the closing arguments, Muh emphasized her team's experience in the Class Council and other activities. Muh is currently Class of '96 vice president, and Sankaran is UA Council floor leader.
In response to some mud-slinging, Sankaran said he does not think any accusations of past failings are relevant. The important issues are plans for the future, and ways to increase the UA's productivity, he said.
Evans, ending the debate, pointed out how much the teams agreed on, though he felt his team was better equipped to face future challenges. His team has more concrete plans for addressing important issues, such as safety and harassment on campus, he said.
Presently, Evans is Class of '95 vice president.