UA Desperately Needs Revitalization
The past few years have been a painful demonstration of the Undergraduate Association's uselessness. The UA is far from being an effective student government, and as a result student interest in it has waned over in recent years. This past term, the UAsaw a few good accomplishments but unfortunately a lot of the same sluggishness. UA President Richard Y. Lee '97 campaigned for his office last spring on the promise of improving student life. As the new semester begins and Lee enters the second half of his presidency, we urge him to steer the UAtoward initiatives that are not only useful for students but also reasonable, keeping in mind the UA's various levels of energy and experience.
The UA's best accomplishments this past term were the revival of the Course Evaluation Guide and the Logan Airport shuttle for students during finals week. Both are direct and useful services for students. The new policy allowing outside accounts, which the UA also helped push through, was a boon to student activities who want better control of their money. But several other initiatives the UA took on last term were less than useful. The resolution the UA passed urging MIT to withhold data from U.S. News & World Report had no effect on anything. The UA sponsored a forum for students on the new writing requirement proposal, but only a few students attended. In his state of the UA address Monday night, Lee touted the cleanliness of the UAoffice as one of his accomplishments. It is a very sad state of affairs when the UApresident is reduced to bragging about such things.
If Lee is to fulfill his promise to improve the lives of students, he should focus on some of the things that affect them. Issues like dining and housing are gaining attention now because changes are going to be made, and they are matters that directly affect students. The UA has made no effort to get students involved in these issues. Last year, Lee made the unrealistic and irresponsible promise to quadruple student activities funding. Now that he has realized that the goal is impossible, he should at least try to achieve some permanent gains for activities; the one-time $40,000 gift from the provost he helped get does not qualify as as such an improvement. The UA should leave organizing big social events like its Spring Weekend plans and Student Center parties to the Programming Board, which exists for exactly such events. And it should also leave behind untenable ideas like a "UA office" - a place with a scanner and fax machine for students to use with little or no cost - because the cost and space requirements will prove unreasonable.
The UA has languished and driven away people over the years with its boring council meetings and even duller agendas. It has little respect among students and doubtless even less among administrators, to whom it must be able to represent student interests. Indeed, it is hardly surprising when the Dean's Office forms a separate student advisory committee, whose putative function - facilitating student input - is supposed to be one of the UA's main jobs. Election season for the UA is just around the corner, and unquestionably we will be subject to the same generic promises of better communication and better representation of students' interests - that is, the handful of us in the UA or student publications who follow what goes on. Little new will be said, and voter turnout will probably be at the same low level it always is. Unless the UA starts to shape itself up with initiatives that are useful and visible to students, it can expect much the same for years to come.