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COLUMN

A President’s Guide to the Presidency

Guest Column
Matthew McGann

Dear Peter Shulman and Mendel Chuang:

Congratulations on your victory. Your year as President and Vice President of the Undergraduate Association will be both interesting and challenging, but always will be a fulfilling experience. Several challenges lie ahead for you. Times are changing at MIT; the obstacles you will face are substantially different than those I faced only one year ago.

The first challenge will be to forge relations with outside bodies. The UA must develop a systematic effort to engage City Halls on both sides of the Charles River. Cambridge Mayor Anthony Galluccio has issued an open invitation for MIT leadership to work in partnership with him -- an opportunity you should seize. Additionally, many city councilors, state senators, and others have shown a willingness to address student issues, from housing issues to the MBTA.

The outreach effort must include an effort to forge a bond with the two cities’ licensing boards in cooperation with the Interfraternity Council and Dormcon. The positive conversations initiated by the IFC with the Boston Licensing Board and the Cambridge Licensing Commission should be expanded and continued. Relationships with outside political bodies may prove to be more important assets than those with administrators -- especially considering the heightened external focus on MIT.

Similarly, a strong relationship with the local and regional media will be crucial. You are in a position to speak on behalf of MIT students in a way that no administrator or other student can. Use this to your advantage in working with beat reporters from the Globe, Herald, Phoenix, Cambridge Chronicle, et al. Provide them with stories that portray MIT students in a positive light and that highlight our points of view. In this way, the media can be our ally in advocacy.

You must also adapt the UA to a new administrative climate. Two of the key people in the UA’s dealings of the past four years -- Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Roz Williams and Dean for Student Life Margaret Bates -- will be leaving, and two new deans (likely to be at best unfamiliar with the UA) will take their place. For the UA to be effective, a strong relationship must be forged with the new deans from day one.

We must also continue to be strong advocates for student housing ideals and student activities. However, to do that, the UA must make connections with the newly restructured Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs. With the departure of Dean Andrew Eisenmann and the appointment of a new dean for both student activities and the Public Service Center, advocacy will first require familiarity.

As internal matters go, the UA must be more inclusive of all students, especially as concerns the visibility of student government. Of the last seven UA Presidents, only one has been a woman, and only one has been an underrepresented minority, with similar ratios for UA Council Speakers. The UA is already taking steps in the right direction -- at least three members of next year’s six-person Coordinating Committee will be women.

Furthermore, you must make greater efforts to determine the priorities of the student body as a whole. Through web polls, study breaks in living groups, random surveys of undergraduates, and other means, you must enable yourselves to truly speak for the needs of the student body.

Your biggest challenge, though, may be to restore confidence in the UA as a whole. Our continuing problems with elections make us look incompetent to the average student. That, combined with an unfortunately weak public-relations effort over the past four years, contributes to a poor perception of the UA and enhances student apathy. Your mission is to turn around our poor perceptions across campus.

A final word: be sure to learn the fine art of delegation. You are but two people. You can achieve more for the student body when you have many working together as a well-strategized, intentional team.

Best of luck next year!

Matthew McGann, the outgoing President of the Undergraduate Association, is a member of the Class of 2000.