Candidates Restate Positions In Final Debate Before VoteBy David D. Hsu
The three teams running for Undergraduate Association president and vice president reiterated their platforms and addressed specific issues in a debate held in Lobby 7 last night.
The format of the debates allowed statements from the candidates and questions from the audience. Unlike the previous debate held on Wednesday, candidates were not allowed to question their opponents.
Steve E. Jens '97 and his running mate Andrew R. Menard '97 restated their view that the UA can work in spite of student apathy. The "UA shouldn't be counting on student involvement," Jens said.
Donning a tie, T-shirt, sweatpants, and a sportcoat, Jens said that qualities of not being as eloquent and "as polished as other UA candidates" are not essential to being a UA president.
Richard Y. Lee '97 and running mate Dedric A. Carter '98 focused on bringing vision to student government.
"It's important to keep this idealism," Lee said. Issues like quadrupling student activity funds is a goal to strive for, he said.
Ashwin Viswanathan '98 and Orli G. Bahcall '99 emphasized the need to represent each and every student view.
Viswanathan opened by contrasting the views of a ROTC cadet and a homosexual. The student government must understand both ideas and then translate them into action.
Many of the questions asked by the audience targeted specific issues like dining and re-engineering.
Views voiced on re-engineering
The candidates were asked about the lack of student service re-engineering effort in examining dining issues.
Lee responded that it was only important so long as one committee is looking at it.
Lee cited a Committee on Student Affairs report that recommended bringing managed dining competition.
Jens mentioned a specific department - the Department of Housing and Food Services - that would be good to work with.
Bringing up other student service re-engineering proposals, Viswanathan said that it was important that student views be factored into the decisions. The UAneeds to seek student opinion on issues like merging HFS with Residence and Campus Activities or moving pre-registration into the middle of the semester.
Candidates were asked how they would increase funding in a time when re-engineering is downsizing budgets.
Both Lee and Jens explained that re-engineering was not just about reducing budgets.
Re-engineering is about reprioritizing funds, Lee said. The student service re-engineering team has stated that extra-curricular life needs to be increased, he said. Achieving more student activity funds is a "matter of prioritizing where to put the money."
Jens said it was not quite clear if more funding would be available. However, re-engineering allows for a better chance for more money than in the past.
Less optimistic than Lee, Viswanathan stressed the need for a plan in case student funds are not allocated.
Reprioritization is a wonderful ideal, Viswanathan said. Even so, MIT is running a deficit and there is a pressing need to save money.
"Student group funding cannot just increase," he said.
Student input stressed
The candidates were asked how they would handle a situation when the administration bypasses student input and makes an arbitrary decision.
It is "clear that the administration must be responsive to student input," Viswanathan said. As UA president, he would talk to the administration and explain the importance of undergraduate opinion.
Then, he would tap into the student input by working with groups like the Interfraternity Council and Dormitory Council, as well as holding forums, surveys, and referenda, he said.
If a specific group were excluded, the UA would talk to them, get their views, and represent them, Bahcall said.
Jens would also look at why the committee did not include students. Further, he would make sure the administration remembers that input is important by sending "flamey e-mail," he said.
Along with representing student views, Lee would also ask why the administration failed to exclude student input and examine that issue.
An ideal UA discussed
The teams were asked on what their vision of an ideal UA is.
Noting current efforts to involve students, Viswanathan said the UA is already heading in that direction. Forums have increased student input and campus-wide events will bring students out of their living groups. The UA will continue these endeavors on a higher level, making sure students are informed about issues, he said.
Lee would like to see specific UAtasks enacted so that there will be a "fundamental change in the way people see the UA," he said. Realistically, the UAcan bring back the How To Get Around MIT guide, increase activity funding, and obtain alumni e-mail accounts. These items will show that the UA can be effective.
Jens sees a two-fold role for the UA. First, the UAmust collect student input and represent the students. By visiting living groups, holding office hours, and forming a publicity committee, the president and vice president can gather opinion, Jens said. Secondly, the UAcan help groups like troubled publications and mediate between different student groups.