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UA President & VP Candidates Discuss Platforms

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The March 14 article “UA President & VP Candidates Discuss Platforms” reported that paper ballot voting would take place in Lobby 10 on Wednesday, March 15. Actually, ballot voting will be available on the first floor of the student center.

By Gabriel Fouasnon,
Curt Fischer and Jenny Zhang

Yesterday, The Tech interviewed the Undergraduate Association President and Vice President Tickets, consisting of Andrew T. Lukmann ’07 and Ruth F. Miller ’07, Jessica H. Lowell ’07 and Steven M. Kelch ’08, and Dwight M. Chambers ’07 and Victor C. Cabral ’07. Online voting ends today, and ballot voting will be available in Lobby 10 tomorrow.

Lukmann and Miller

“MIT cable is our main issue,” Miller said. If elected, Lukmann said he would push MIT’s Information Services & Technology department to pressure Comcast into providing more options.

Lukmann articulated several key differences between his ticket and his opponents’. He and Miller had “more combined experience” than the opposition tickets, he noted.

Lukmann specifically challenged Chambers’ experience, saying that Chambers had “only been a Senator for half a term.” He also characterized Chambers as a “one-issue guy,” referring to Chambers’ plan to address ROTC-related discrimination issues.

Lukmann has worked with Lowell extensively in his duties as UA Senate Speaker, and calls her a friend. He encouraged her to run as vice-president last year, he said, because he “thought she was going to do a pretty good job.”

But he added that he has been “disappointed” with her term as vice-president. He said he thought this year’s UA lacked proper managerial oversight, and criticized Lowell’s use of the UA vice presidency, saying that she focused on issues relevant only to her and her dormitory.

He said his ticket, in contrast, wants to spend much more time supervising the UA’s committees and the Senate than the present administration.

Lukmann and Miller said they would tackle the issue of textbook costs at the Coop, by having professors list any required textbooks for a course in the Registrar’s class listing, giving time for students to buy it ahead of time.

They also cited a program at the University of Illinois, where students negotiated with textbook publishers directly, obtaining deep discounts through bulk purchasing. These savings were passed on to the student body without profit, they said.

Miller and Lukmann also called for increased transparency in long-term administration planning, for example on construction projects such as the recently-announced closing of Ashdown, as well as less tangible issues such as reform of the undergraduate curriculum.

If elected, by what metrics will Lukmann and Miller judge the success of their administration? Miller said that she would “see what [Finance Board] budget looks like, and if we’re able to give student groups more money.” Lukmann cited getting student groups more money, by both reducing the UA’s budget and exploring non-traditional funding sources, as an important goal.

Lukmann said he would gauge his success as UA president by a poll of students, and looking at how well they believe the UA “shares their voice to the administration.”

Lowell and Kelch

Lowell and Kelch emphasized that they will hold people accountable. Their online campaign platform calls for the replacement or removal of ineffective UA members.

Kelch expressed desire for the UA to be the body students turn to whenever they have a question or problem regarding their relationship with the university. He said, for example, that many students do not know that there is such a thing as a Saferide committee, to which they should take complaints or ideas. Ideally, Kelch said, students would automatically think of approaching the UA.

Lowell and Kelch agreed that the most important issue is preserving the culture and values like autonomy that make MIT MIT. Lowell illustrated the importance of this point by discussing her role in negotiating the current rooftop punishment policy. Originally the administration wanted to impose $500 fines, but Lowell proposed a policy that would replace fines for the first two offenses with community service requirements. “I’ve gotten more positive feedback on this than anything I’ve done,” she said.

Dining was another issue that Lowell and Kelch chose as being important to the MIT student community. Kelch said that as he was collecting signatures for his candidacy petition, many students asked him about dining before they would agree to sign his petition.

Lowell recalled that earlier in the year there was rumor that meal plans would be made mandatory for all students. She said upon hearing this from friends, “I tracked [the rumors] down and got” Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict “to squash them.”

Like many of the other candidates, Kelch and Lowell stated the need to increase communication between the UA and students. How do they intend to do this? Lowell said as East Campus senator, she sent her constituents a detailed summary of UA meetings, and that whenever she interviewed someone in the administration she would do the same, so that students would always be informed.

Kelch, a current senator for the fraternities, said that after each Senate meeting, he e-mails fraternity presidents, and requests that they forward it to the rest of the fraternity members. “It’s about making the presidents understand this is important,” he said.

When asked why the UA Web site has not been updated regularly, Lowell said “the webmaster’s been pretty hosed, but he’s made a lot of progress on the new design.” Lowell and Kelch said that the problem with implementing a paid webmaster position would be that it would cut into Finboard funding for student groups.

Reflecting on her past year as UA vice president, Lowell said, “Any year to any extent is going to be a mixed bag.” “There are some things that take more than a year to implement,” she said.

She said that one of the reasons she picked Kelch as her running mate is because his ability complements hers. At one point she characterized their ticket as a combination of “Steve’s [Kelch’s] talents and my experience.” She said of her running mate, “I think Steve will be a good enforcer, getting people to do what they have to do.”

Kelch said he’ll know he’s done a good job “When I stop getting the question: what does the UA do?”

Chambers and Cabral

UA president candidate Chambers said he and Cabral make a strong pair, because they are “different and complementary people.” Chambers said Cabral is “incredibly passionate” and will “latch onto an issue and work to accomplish it,” while he tends to sit and think quietly.

Chambers said the UA needed to address budget issues and housing costs. Since MIT is working to make dormitories self-sufficient through rents, he said that he is concerned with ensuring that students can live in a dormitory they like, without being influenced by the cost. Reducing operating costs of dormitories would be important, he said.

In terms of changes that the average MIT student would notice a few months down the road, Chambers said he would like to improve the dining situation in the Student Center, namely the Lobdell food court, since changes in food vendors have caused it to lose popularity as a student meeting place. Also, Chambers stressed the importance of keeping 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays free of makeup exams and extra laboratory time, because “MIT is a difficult place” and students need that time to pursue activities such as athletics, without academics getting in the way.

Within the UA, Chambers said his ticket would like to “make the UA a legitimate body,” refocus the committees, and run meetings efficiently, so that students would be more willing to get involved.

Additionally, the UA needs to be fiscally responsible, and make sure groups do not overspend, with the mentality that money comes from a bottomless pit. Chambers said this could be assured by having the UA follow more closely during groups’ budgetary processes, and make sure that they adhere to their budgets.

The Chambers-Cabral ticket is different from the other two, Chambers said, because it is realistic and makes promises that can be kept. “I really feel a strong difference emerged in the debate” last week, he said.

Chambers said if his ticket were elected, he would gauge its performance and shortcomings by looking at concerns next year’s candidates raise.

Another initiative their ticket believes in, Chambers said, is making sure non-resident fraternity members are not paying twice for dining because their dormitory has mandatory dining and their fraternity might also have meal plans. He accepted that freshmen would probably remain housed on campus at least in the near future, and said a compromise for this situation would be important.

To improve communication, Chambers said they would take a pragmatic approach by first identifying the “barrier to student participation.” He said part of the problem is location, as the fourth floor of the Student Center, the current setting of meetings, is not ideal. “[Cabral] and I are committed to taking the UA show on the road,” he said.