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Wijesinghe Elected GSC President

By Kevin R. Lang


The Graduate Student Council elected its officers for the 2002-2003 academic year Wednesday, choosing Sanith Wijesinghe G as president, John P. Lock G as vice president, Vijay Shilpiekandula G as secretary, and Alvar Saenz Otero G as treasurer.

Outgoing GSC President Dilan A. Seneviratne said he thought that the new leadership gave the GSC “a very good mix of experience and youth and energetic people.” The new officers will take over at the May GSC meeting.

Wijesinghe ran unopposed

Although he was running unopposed at Wednesday’s election meeting, Wijesinghe declined his earlier nomination at the meeting to allow nominations to be reopened. Seneviratne said candidates running unopposed will normally decline the nomination at the election meeting for that reason.

However, no other candidates ran for president. Wijesinghe said that two other candidates were nominated earlier, but each had declined.

Seneviratne said numerous candidates expressed interest in running for the offices. “There were more than four candidates” who initially accepted nominations, he said, but several later declined because they could not commit enough time to the GSC. Seneviratne estimated that being a GSC officer takes an average of 35 to 40 hours per week.

“That’s significant time that you take away from research,” he said.

Wijesinghe said he thought graduate students were often limited by their research from getting involved as GSC officers. Many faculty advisors do not allow their students to get involved as officers due to the lost research time, he said.

However, Wijesinghe said the GSC needs to make graduate students more aware that involvement and research can be balanced. “That’s a message that we need to work harder on -- that you can do both.”

Off-campus advocacy a priority

Wijesinghe is entering the final year of his PhD program in Course XVI. He previously served as GSC vice president in 1998-1999, and has chaired numerous GSC committees. He has been involved with the GSC for each of his first six years as a graduate student, and Wijesinghe said he did not think finishing his thesis while serving as president would present a problem for him.

“I wanted to contribute,” Wijesinghe said. He plans on tackling “some of the goals that we’d been working on for the past few years,” including graduate housing. “It’s kind of a continuation of ideas and thoughts that we’ve had over the years,” he said.

Wijesinghe hopes the GSC will develop alternate plans for graduate housing in case MIT decides to house more undergraduates in graduate dorms, in addition to the approximately 140 expected to be housed next year. “The real question is what happens now if the number increases,” Wijesinghe said.

In addition, he wants to increase the GSC’s advocacy for off-campus issues by forming a new committee. “Off-campus issues definitely need more focus this year,” he said.

However, Wijesinghe said he also hoped to make the GSC a model for the MIT administration’s decision-making process. “I think the GSC can contribute by demonstrating due process in the decision-making process,” he said. “I want [the administration] to take a more representative and a much more accountable process to their decision-making.”

Lock sought VP post

Lock is a third-year PhD student in Course X. This year he chaired the GSC Activities Committee and served as executive officer of GSC-Sloan TechLink, which works with both the GSC and Sloan’s student government.

“I’ve been involved in the GSC and other organizations on campus for the past couple of years,” Lock said. He said he became interested in running for vice president because “it tends to be the more interactive role in the GSC, where your job is to really integrate with these other groups and see what everyone’s interested in.”

“The position fit my personality and my talents a bit more,” Lock said.

He said the GSC was facing a number of significant advocacy issues next year, including the $200 activity fee and what he referred to as the “housing crisis.”

“I think that the biggest challenge is going to be selecting the battles that the GSC is going to address,” Lock said. He said the GSC could not realistically take on every challenge next year, but would be more effective choosing a few key issues to work on.

Lock said he also had a personal goal for next year to act as an intermediary between different committees and people within the GSC. “I want to see what the group as a whole wants to do,” Lock said. “It’s going to be very exciting to see what evolves.”

Officers bring diverse experience

Shilpiekandula is a first-year SM student in Course II. This past year, he served as an editor of the Graduate Student Newsletter and has been actively involved in Ashdown House’s student government.

He said one of his main goals for the coming year is to improve student awareness of the GSC. “I would like to achieve more readership of the GSN,” Shilpiekandula said.

Saenz Otero is a fourth-year PhD student in Course XVI. He served as president of the Association of Student Activities this past year.

“He brings in a lot of contacts and experience of working with a number of different administrators,” Seneviratne said. “He will be a very strong advocate for off-campus students.”

Saenz Otero said he had considered running for GSC office previously, but in the weeks when nominations were open he was occupied with ASA matters and did not run. At the election meeting, however, “It happened that they needed someone, and they asked me,” Saenz Otero said. “I said yes.”

He said he hopes to continue improving the graduate student activity funding process, working with other officers to make the GSC’s finances more open and public. However, Saenz Otero said he had not yet discussed any plans for GSC finances with the other newly elected officers.

“One of my biggest goals would be to make people realize that the GSC is much more than just a group that funds student activities,” Saenz Otero said. “I really hate it when people say that the GSC only funds student groups.” He said he wants to make the funding process transparent such that students see other GSC actions in addition to the funding board.

Saenz Otero said his ASA experience would help as treasurer since he has experience with the GSC funding board. “It gives me the advantage that I have been at many, many GSC funding board meetings,” he said. The GSC treasurer is chair of its funding board.

Officers elected within council

Candidates for GSC office can be nominated by any graduate student, including the candidates themselves. Once nominated, candidates have until a week before elections to accept the nomination and subsequently submit a statement of candidacy. If there are no candidates available at the time of the election, the position is open for nominations at the election meeting.

Seneviratne said he thought having the council elect its own officers helped to identify people who were more interested and more committed, but he said that “in principle, having an open election like the UA is better.” However, Seneviratne said direct election by the student body makes elections far more complicated and delays the process.

“Maybe in the long run we should go and do a system where the whole graduate student body elects officers,” Shilpiekandula said. However, the GSC constitution would have to be changed for such election reforms to occur.