Shulman and Chuang Plan the UA’s Future
Election Reform, Administration Relations Set
The Tech: What did you think of this year’s Undergraduate Association elections?
Mendel Chuang: I’m pretty happy it’s over because now my life can somewhat come back to normal. During elections you have to do campaigning stuff, so you have to act a little bit differently -- put campaigning ahead of other things you have to do. So your priorities get switched, sometimes your academics get pushed to the back. I’m glad I can go back and say: Okay, I have to catch up on all this work. Luckily we had a four day weekend to do that.
Peter Shulman: I talked to the other candidates both before and after the votes were tallied. We all agreed that if it were up to us things would have been so much cleaner and smoother. I think for everybody involved there were circumstances beyond their control. There is no sense in blaming anyone, that’s just ridiculous. But I think we were drained by the whole process.
Chuang: Especially since it went on longer than we expected it would.
The Tech: More importantly, what are your plans for the next year?
Chuang: I guess we are taking it step by step. The first thing we need to do is create a budget for next semester, and we also need to appoint a Secretary General, Treasurer, and Information Technology Specialist, who takes care of any web stuff the UA has, or any information stuff. So the elections, Aaron Ucko actually did a lot of that. It’s us non-course six majors that can’t figure it out, we go to them and ask.
Shulman: By the end of the semester our plans are to take care of appointments, and take take care of the budget for next semester, and then work out a framework of what’s going to happen when we get back to school in mid-August or so.
Chuang: We’re also working on reforming the election process. These are things that came out of the election and we said: Okay, we really, really need to tackle these right now. We’re not going to wait until next semester, or wait until it happens again next year. We’re going to start tackling them now.
The Tech: So will these new processes be in place for the Class of 2004 elections in the fall?
Chuang: Hopefully it will.
Shulman: It depends on how the vote goes in council I guess. Between now and the end of the semester we will be meeting with administrators to get things anchored before we go away. I won’t be here this summer. I’ll be back and forth on weekends.
Also the election reform is being seriously talked about by the election commission, and by the Chair, Zhelinrentice Scott. My first reaction was, “Great, we’ll have next year to work on this,” and then of course the freshman elections come up early next year. So this is something we actually have to tackle immediately to make sure that for any reforms we are going to make, we can have sort of a trial run with the freshman election.
Chuang: One of other things we want to tackle immediately is to make sure we talk to the people who have done all these things this year, and see, “Okay, how did this year go? What do we need to change for next year? Or What do we still need to keep the same?” I think the transition period is actually really important because a lot of the time if you don’t talk to whomever’s done it, you lose something good. And so you start over all again, and sometimes you mess it up.
It’s good, we’ve been in contact with (current UA President) Matt McGann a lot to make sure we’re doing the right thing, and we’re doing it when we need to be. Luckily some of these people are sticking around next year, so we can still ask them if we forget anything. But some people are graduating so we need to make sure we talk to those people before they actually graduate.
Shulman: On the way up here today, I ran into Damien Brosnan, the President of IFC. Damien and I met months ago, and we’re already beginning to work on the interaction of IFC and the UA, and of course with Jeff Roberts of DormCon.
The Tech: You had talked about the relationship between the administration and students. In what ways do you plan to improve relations?
Shulman: I think what needs to be done is first ascertain where the administration stands. We talk about “the administration” when it’s clearly a body of 400 individuals. That’s going to involve talking to a lot of people to see where they’re heading in the next year or two and in the future, and then go back to the students, and make sure that we’re on the same wavelength.
The Tech: On that note, there have been several deans who have stepped down, so there will be many new deans coming in. How do you plan to deal with that?
Chuang: I think it’s important that we help in the selection process of the new deans.
Shulman: It’s already happening. The search committee that is preparing a list of candidates for the Dean of Undergraduate Education for Lawrence S. Bacow is meeting this Friday. We prepare a short list, and give it to Chancellor Bacow who’s going to work with President Vest and Provost Bob Brown to make the final decision. We’re the sieve process. So in the near future the Dean of Undergraduate Education will be announced. And this is an internal search. It’s 99.9 percent going to be someone from inside the Institute. The reason it has to be done so soon is because Dean Roz Williams has decided that she is going to step down July first. So once that happens, the new dean will be in place. We will be involved in the selection process and I am one hundred percent confident that the new dean will do an excellent job.
Next comes the outside search for the new Dean of Student Life. The Dean of Undergraduate Education will already be selected and that person will have to aid in the search for the Dean of Student Life because the two will have to work intimately together over the next five or more years to pave the wave of the future for MIT undergraduates. And that’s a new position carved out of the two halves of Roz’s position.
As far as Dean Eisenmann’s position, the whole office is being restructured in a way. Fortunately we already have great connections with everybody in that office now, Assistant Dean Katie O’Dair and Laurie Ward.
Chuang: Even beyond that it’s very important that we as the UA talk to them, and make sure they understand the issues and that we have a feeling about how they feel about things, and have a good relationship right from the get-go instead of having to hash it out later when problems arise.
Shulman: Without a doubt, from my experience, there are issues that go on within the Dean’s office that need to be resolved. They have their own set of problems that has to be addressed. But the job of Dean of Undergraduate Education or the Dean of Student Life has to be something that also filters down as first priority through the students, and that’s been difficult in the past few years because of other responsibilities of Dean Williams’ job. So it’s critical that we have that connection.
The Tech: One of the issues the new deans will be dealing with is housing, which you also will probably deal with daily. What are your roles in that aspect of MIT life?
Shulman: The new dorm is the critical aspect. Once that is completed, that’s when all the changes will eventually take place. Right now, the biggest role we have, I would say, is through the Founder’s Group, which is a organization made up of students, faculty, and administration. The committee will establish the role of the new dorm.
I think the role of the new dorm can serve as a reflection of the wave of housing of the future, with its design of living space and educational space. There’s definitely a trend to integrate more the living arrangement with the educational arrangement. You can see this with the new trial next year in McCormick with an in-dorm advising group. This is sort of testing the waters as to how feasible is it to really fully integrate the educational process with the living process.
So the UA will have a critical role to play in suggesting, amending, and paving the way for that process.
Chuang: I think our key role is to listen to what students think about these ideas and what they think will and will not work. We just present that to help steer it in the right direction so it doesn’t go haywire and they forget about the students.
Shulman: Something that may sound like a wonderful idea in theory to a faculty or an administrator, may be well known to the student community not to be feasible.
The Tech: The UA also has a role as a figurehead to the media, or the spokesperson, who if there’s a problem they’ll come to the student government leaders. How do you deal with media pressures?
Shulman: Especially with the number of crises that have arisen this year that have attracted media attention, there has been a repeated observation by students that we really don’t know how to interact with the media, to say “Go talk to so-and-so. Go talk to the MIT spokesperson,” or give our opinions, what we think, and how that reflects on MIT, why does the media care so much about us in the first place, why is this a newsworthy story.
Something that has been repeatedly suggested is to have the News Office hold some sort of session for students: “How to Interact with the Media.” Whether it’s just saying, “Go to the News Office, here’s the official statement,” or “These are the appropriate things to say in a crisis.” For example, it’s not the best idea to start speculating on the cause of some sort of accident, because then that gets reported and it goes from there. That can be very dangerous and damaging to those involved. So, that’s something I’d like to see worked out, to actually have this program in place.
As far as us personally as contact people, I would love to go through the training myself. I hope I could say something that is not necessarily going to incriminate anyone.
Chuang: Just watching Matt McGann this year, I’ve noticed he’s done a really excellent job of this. He gets called up and asked if they can interview him on something. Whether it is or is not related to the UA, he sometimes gets called up because he is a figurehead. I’ve seen him build up a relationship with some of the reporters. I think that is somewhat crucial, so they know who to contact and they know that he will give them an honest answer and an honest opinion.
Something Matt did was go to the Boston Globe, and that really cool. He went there, took time out, and said, “This is what the students feel.” At the same time Chuck Vest went too, so that was an added bonus, and showed that we care as much as the administration does, and we can be there to put in our voice. I think that was very helpful.
The Tech: Do you have anything else you would like to add about your goals for next year?
Shulman: It was unusual this year that we ran against three pairs of outstanding candidates. We have contacted all of them and really hope that everyone else involved stays involved with the UA, because across the board they are an invaluable resource. They have dedication, commitment, and a number of them have already independently expressed their interest in remaining involved.
Chuang: Next year I imagine to be a very exciting year, because with all these changes that are going on right now, it will be pretty important how we react to them, and how we set things up. Peter and I can’t do this alone, so having them help out will be a great benefit. I think right now I am starting to see a lot of new faces pop up in the UA. A lot more interest has been generated, and I hope to keep that momentum going.