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Students Describe the Ideal President

By Pon-Pon Yeh

MIT students gave a varied and often contentious view of who the next MIT president should be at two recent town hall meetings held by the Student Advisory Group to the Corporation. Many, however, agreed the new president would needed to improve its communication with the student body.

This consensus was not present in other issues, including gender, race, and professional background .

In addition, students expressed concern about the future of the Institute culturally, economically, and academically.

Student communication essential

A total of about 30 students attended the two recent town hall meetings this past Wednesday and last Thursday. Students were enthusiastic about having more student-administration interaction, and especially stressed the importance of having a president that would focus on communicating with students and addressing their concerns.

The “most important quality is that he or she is accessible to the student,” said Dexter W. Ang ’05. “Communication is important if the students hope “to influence change later,” he said.

Many other students present concurred with Ang’s opinion. “I want a president that cares about student opinions,” said Clifford Choute ’04.

“Student input is a must. I don’t know exactly what direction this school should go in, but it needs leaders who recognize that they have to pay attention to student life,” Choute said.

Undecided on race and gender

Students considered the idea of a minority or female president with mixed reactions.

Those advocating a female or minority president noted that it would set an important precedent for women and minorities.

MIT has always “represent[ed] the future of the country,” said Hector H. Hernandez G. “Think of the message MIT would send if they try to get” a woman or minority president, he said.

Other students, however, stressed the importance of qualifications over gender. “Whoever is best qualified” should get the job, said Stephanie S. Cavagnaro-Wong ’06. She went on to say that currently, there “more men qualified than women.”

Another point made was that the new president would need to feel that he or she received the job based on his or her own merit.

“It could be a bad thing to have a woman if she feels she’s been put there because she’s a woman,” said Andrea L. Crandall ’04.

Challenges for a new president

Students brought up many different challenges that the new president will have to focus on in the next decade.

Specifically, students discussed the future of the fraternity, sorority, and independent living group systems.

“One of the biggest problems he is going to have to solve is the future of the FSILG system,” said Undergraduate Association treasurer John R. Velasco ’05.

Another challenge that the new president will have to face is preserving MIT’s distinctive culture.

There is a “definite trend away from what MIT has stood for and been,” Cavagnaro-Wong said. “[We] need someone willing to stand up for MIT’s culture and protect it,” she said.

Specifically, some students felt that the new MIT president would need to be more lenient towards hacks. “They’re kind of cutting down” on student hacks, said Brian D. Owens ’07, saying that the current policy appears to be “if you’re going to do a hack, register it.”

No decision on alum requirement

Students expressed mixed opinions on whether or not the next MIT president needs be an MIT alumnus or alumna.

Students arguing against the necessity of a former MIT student as president cited the benefits of a new outlook on the way things work at the Institute. It may be good to have a “different perspective,” said Andrea T. Urmanita ’06. Urmanita did say that the new president “need[s] to understand what the culture is.”

Not all students shared this sentiment. For example, Sonali Rudra ’04 said she preferred an MIT graduate. He or she would be able “to sympathize with us” and garner “more respect” among faculty, she said.

Other students addressed this issue by suggesting that candidates who have been part of MIT’s faculty for at least parts of their career should also be considered.

Science background encouraged

Students’ opinions were also mixed on the necessary professional background of the new president. Primarily, students discussed whether a scientific background was necessary for the new president, with no uniform opinion presented at the end of the matter.

Some felt it was essential, while others saw it merely as a bonus. Without a scientific background, any new president would face difficulty in monitoring how well the Institute was working according to Barrett S. Mitchell ’06.

However, not everyone agreed. “A science background is not as important as the ability to understand and promote MIT’s core values,” said Alvin M. Lin ’04.

Another consideration voiced was the desire for the new president to have experience in dealing with a population as diverse as MIT.

“I’d like to see some experience dealing with racial or diversity issues,” said Jacob W. Faber ’04, Undergraduate Association vice president.

Students seek person of respect

One important quality of the new president, according to the attending students, is that he or she must be able to command the respect of others.

The president’s job includes “projecting what it means to be MIT, to the world,” said Anna L. Stevens G.

Overall, discussion on the responsibilities of the president focused on his or her role as a representative of MIT to the world, and of the world to MIT.

Recognition at the national and international level was important to some students. The next president “should command an international presence,” Owens said.

However, at the same time, the new president must be involved with MIT’s internal affairs. The president should have “credibility and respect within our faculty,” Ang said.

In addition, this respect should be present in “engineering as well as [the Humanities, Arts and Social Science] departments,” he said. “A leader must be able to rally all students together as one unit.”

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