The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 39.0°F | Fair

Viswanathan Best Choice For UAP

Once a year, the Undergraduate Association presidential elections give students an excuse to discuss important issues and to elect someone to do something about them. Unfortunately, the candidates' apparent ignorance of those issues has made this year's affair disappointing. Ashwin Viswanathan '98 has demonstrated a superior knowledge of the UA and of the issues at hand. Although he has evinced a certain lack of energy or new ideas, his experience and his balanced views make him the best choice for UAP.

The past week's debates have highlighted the candidates' uniform misunderstanding of current events. On Thursday, candidate Richard Y. Lee '97 promised he'd do what he could to bring back How to Get Around MIT. He's in luck: The Technology Community Association has said it will be printed with or without the UA. Viswanathan wants to give students a say in the Institute's verdict on ROTC. But he's too late: The time available for input has essentially passed. Lee, Viswanathan, and candidate Stephen E. Jens '97 have employed some vague statements and rhetoric to describe opportunities they see resulting from re-engineering, without discussing any details. All have failed to show understanding of food service, Institute finances, or much of anything else.

Given that ignorance, each candidate does convey a number of points in their favor. Jens has been impressive with his honesty, modesty, and selflessness. He speaks without pretense about the need for food service competition; his reasoned lack of concern over student apathy is heartfelt, as are his plans to reduce UA spending through internal reforms.

Two main factors tell against Jens' candidacy. First, Jens admitted lack of charm, charisma, and speaking skills would dull his rapport with students and administrators. A UA president needs to be able to both communicate well with students, and forcefully advocate their interests to administrative departments. Without those skills, Jens may not be able to adequately represent student interests. Second, Jens' plans for altering the funding situation seem ill-advised. Trying to put the UA budget at the mercy of the Finance Board would embroil the UA in another distracting feud, as well as reduce the authority of the UA at the very moment in needs more respect. Jens' stands, combined with his lack of charisma, make him a poor choice.

Richard Lee's strongest asset is his ability to express his idealistic goals for the Institute - what he calls the "renaissance of passion" - clearly and vigorously. His self-confidence and poise make him forceful and credible. Furthermore, his ideas about increased funding and food service competition have contributed some positive energy to the campaign debate.

Lee's problems are threefold. First, the promise to quadruple MIT's spending on student groups seems wishful in the face of re-engineering's cost-cutting. Furthermore, other UAPs have made the same effort without success. Second, Lee has demonstrated a grave lack of knowledge about MIT's workings. His confusion about alumni e-mail, re-engineering, and a non-existent "Institute Committee on Student Life" is disturbing. Third, Lee's self-righteous manner may make him a poor choice to represent undergraduates. For example, Lee's constant, unfavorable comparisons of MITto Ivy League schools reflect a self-important detachment from undergraduate life at the Institute. Without more experience and more grounding in undergraduate MIT life, Lee could not adequately represent the MIT student body.

The third candidate, Ashwin Viswanathan, is the unlikely best of the bunch. Viswanathan seems to know more than his competitors about both the UA and the administrators he would have to deal with. His easy manner and honest concern for communication make him the best choice for communicating with the student body, as well as honestly representing the needs of students to the MITcommunity. Most importantly, he projects an air of competence and modest self-confidence that would serve him well in dealing with the Institute's administration.

Viswanathan is not the ideal candidate. His ideas are old and bland: Many past UAPs have plugged increased communication with the Interfraternity Council and the Dormitory Council, for example, and a student life fee has also been tried without success. Viswanathan does not bring the same energy to the campaign as Lee. In spite of these problems, Viswanathan's experience, balance, and character make him the best choice for UA president.