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Candidates Probe Issues at Debate

UA Presidential Hopefuls Discuss MIT Culture and Incorporation of the UA

By Efren Gutierrez

Candidates for UA President sparred over issues ranging from MIT culture to student representation in an Undergraduate Association Presidential Debate Wednesday night. Sponsored by The Tech, the debate showcased the candidates’ aspirations as well as their talents, which included juggling and singing.

Each of the presidential candidates, Jennifer C. Berk ’01, Sanjay K. Rao ’02, Peter A. Shulman ’01, and Christopher D. Smith ’01, presented their platforms and were questioned by a panel composed of Tech reporters and the current UA president, Matt L. McGann ’00. The candidates also questioned each other and fielded questions from the audience.

Guarding the MIT culture

All the candidates agreed that the UA President must defend MIT culture against internal and external attacks.

Rao, Berk, and Shulman all suggested bringing those who attack MIT’s culture to MIT to see what our culture is about and to improve relations. Rao went on to suggest dinners between faculty and students to improve relations on that front as well.

Smith said, “Students’ rights to culture must be protected. Guidelines need to be implemented, such as my proposed Student Life Honor Code, so we can bring back trust to MIT.”

Incorporation of the UA

Smith’s platform includes the incorporation of the UA, turning the body into a legal corporation with legal rights and standing distinct from a student group. The idea became a hot issue in the debate when a panel member questioned its validity and expressed doubt that it could be accomplished within one year.

In defense of his plan, Smith said that incorporation will “mobilize the student body from just ‘thinking things’ to making them happen. Caltech incorporated in one year. Why can’t we?”

However, fellow candidate Shulman asked Smith, “Why incorporate? And what would happen if MIT shuts funding?”

Smith responded, “We need it (incorporation) for legal standing, and so that we will be seen as a respected committee by MIT. If MIT should shut down funding,” Smith said, students would have a variety of choices. “We could choose not to attend classes so that we can open the communication channels. We could also get funding from alumni, or in the worst scenario possible impose a student [activities] tax.”

Representing the student body

All participants in the debate returned frequently to the need for the UA president to represent all MIT students.

Citing his experience in class council, Rao said, “I would use the techniques I have used as President of the the class of 2002. I would use the MIT spotlight on the web for half a day to get input from the student body. I would also just try to go out there and meet a diverse group of people.”

Shulman said, “I will go door to door through all of campus. All I need is for you to let me in, but seriously I’ll go out there and listen to the MIT community.”

Smith, returning to his refrain of incorporation, responded, “Because of incorporation, there will be more involvement from the MIT student community and so varying opinions will be expressed. I would make a UA newsletter and use the interdepartmental mailing system to reach people”

Berk said, “It’s kind of impossible to get everybody’s opinion, but as long as we get a diverse amount of response then that’s what counts.”

Humor, talent at debate

While not a typical feature of debate, the talent competition enlivened the event. Berk juggled while offering an animated account of how she learned the skill. Rao presented a piece of rhymed prose about his passion for MIT which incorporated most of his platform. Shulman performed a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in which he stated what he intended to do as UA president. Smith said he was “talentless” but presented an oration of Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech.

Voting for UA President and Vice-President will begin online at midnight Monday, April 2, and will last until midnight Thursday, April 6. A paper ballot will be held Friday, April 7, in Lobby 7.

The Tech will also be sponsoring the first Vice-Presidential debate Sunday on the first floor of the Student Center.