UA Candidates Hold First DebateBy David D. Hsu
In the first of two Undergraduate Association presidential debates, the three teams running for president and vice president squared off and presented varying views of the current and future state of the UA.
Presidential candidate Steven E. Jens '97 and running mate Andrew R. Menard '97 felt that the UA needs to take an active role in gathering opinions in spite of student apathy. "The role of the UA is to represent these people to the administration and find out what they want," Jens said.
Since many students are dissatisfied with Aramark food service, Jens and Menard would work toward de-monopolizing dining, bring back dining halls to the dormitories, and have students be responsible for their profits and losses.
Seeking a "renaissance of passion," Richard Y. Lee '97 and running mate Dedric A. Carter '98, emphasized bringing focus to the UA. "We honestly believe we can bring vision to the Undergraduate Association, something it desperately lacks," Carter said. The pair would work toward increasing the level of student activity funding, while re-examining the structure of the UA.
Currently, the UA has no archive system and cannot remember things it did last week, Carter said. "It's pitiful, strictly pitiful." The UA also needs to remember its successes, like Safe Ride, Carter said.
Ashwin Viswanathan '98 and Orli G. Bahcall '99 sought to "represent the needs of each and every student" no matter what background or interest, Viswanathan said. They would accomplish this goal by increasing accessibility of the UA, holding student forums, and increasing communication with various organizations including the Dormitory Council and the Interfraternity Council.
Bahcall would like the UA to play a role in the Course Evaluation Guide. While the CEG editors should concentrate on writing evaluations, it should be the UA's job to lobby deans for support, she said.
The debates, held at Burton-Conner House, were moderated by Albert L. Hsu '96. Candidates made statements, questioned their opponents, and answered questions from the audience. About 30 people attended the event.
The second debate will be held next Monday in Lobby 7 at 7 p.m.
Student apathy a concern
All three candidates acknowledged that students are apathetic toward the UA, but each team presented a different approach to solving the problem.
Jens saw student apathy as something that likely would not be overcome, but would not necessarily hamper the UA. During his freshman year, Jens himself was unconcerned with student government.
Later, he decided to run for a position on the Association of Student Activities Executive Board. At the time, Jens' philosophy was that "if [the ASA] doesn't do anything, I'll destroy it," Jens said.
As UA president, he would visit living groups in order to gauge student opinion and needs, Jens said. In addition, a publicity committee would be formed to attract more input from students.
To a large extent, the UA can be a black box, Jens said. People don't need to see the UA to see the positive effects it can bring, he said.
Viswanathan also acknowledged that classes take up a lot of students' time, and the current UA is trying to combat apathy. The UA will sponsor a field day in April that will provide carnival-type activities for the whole campus. A field day would help "bring people out of their living group," he said.
In addition, the UA has solicited and will continue to solicit student input in forums on issues like women's housing and the future of ROTC.
Another effort to increase student input would be to start meeting regularly with Dormcon and IFC, Bahcall said. In this manner, a decision similar to Dormcon's decision to end Clearinghouse would not be made by just one group in secret.
Lee cast a different light on apathy. While student apathy is a convenient blame, people should ask why people are apathetic to the UA, Lee said. "What has the UA done for you anyway?" he asked. The best way to combat the resulting apathy is to make the UA more responsive to students.
Lee hopes to bring tangible improvements like bringing back How To Get Around MIT and allowing alumni to keep e-mail accounts for life.
Candidates discuss activities
Viswanathan asked the two other teams for specific ways to increase funding for student activities in a time when the Institute is currently dealing with decreased funding for the Office of Minority Education and for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.
Jens, noting the success of a telethon drive to ask alumni for donations, suggested that students can contact alumni to donate money for specific activities.
Jens would like the UAto apply for funds from the UAFinance Board just like any other student activity. This would put the UA on an equal level with other student groups.
Lee and Carter have specific short-term and long-term goals for student activities funding, Carter said. The long-term goal is to get four times the current funding so MIT can be on the same level as other high-caliber colleges. The immediate goal is to double funding to the level MIT had 20 years ago.
Lee came to MIT with an image of a grand place with ivy-covered walls, he said. After Lee's first semester at MIT, he saw that people had a bitter disposition, he said. Compared to Harvard University, MIT's classrooms and quality of life are much worse, Lee said. Funding activities can help improve student life, he said.
Other colleges often have lower tuition because they have line-item allocations for specific purposes like student activities, Lee said. Students can better decide which locations are important, Lee said.
Viswanathan would continue the UA-initiated option parents have to mark funds for student activities. The team is also considering a student activity fee.