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UA Pres/VP Debate Draws Small Crowd

By Curt Fischer
STAFF REPORTER

About 15 people showed up at the start of the Undergraduate Association debate last night, with the crowd reaching only about 25, even at the night’s climax as the candidates vying to lead the undergraduate government discussed the hot topics for the year ahead.

Issues of legitimacy and accountability, communication between the student body and Institute administration, and crisis management elicited the most heated debate.

Presidential candidate and current UA vice president Jessica H. Lowell ’07 and vice presidential running mate Steven M. Kelch ’08, a UA senator for the fraternities, repeatedly emphasized accountability for the UA. “People need to be removed if they are not effective,” Kelch said.

Dwight M. Chambers ’07, currently UA Senator for fraternities, and his vice presidential running mate Victor C. Cabral ’07 (also a Campus Life writer for The Tech) called for “making the UA a legitimate body.” One way to foster legitimacy for the UA as an organization is to “not drown out legitimate business in the noise” said Chambers, railing against last year’s UA resolution against pink snow.

Senate Speaker Andrew T. Lukmann ’07, a presidential candidate running with Ruth F. Miller ’07 (also an opinion editor for The Tech), enumerated three ways to foster UA legitimacy: encouraging leadership from within, having a strong executive board, and maintaining an archive to train future UA members.

One issue on which the tickets differed substantively was their stance on interaction with the Institute administration. Lowell and Kelch repeatedly said they would “keep their ears open,” and develop open relations with administrators.

Chambers and Cabral took a more aggressive stance. “We need to press the administration,” Cabral said. His running mate Chambers mentioned renovations to Burton-Conner House and the possible closing of Random Hall as issues they would raise with the administration.

Lukmann, the UA Senate Speaker, mentioned his ongoing efforts to increase student membership in Student Life committees. Lowell said she was interested in repeating the success of the Strategic Advisory Committee, which managed a student-initiated movement to set MIT’s agenda for housing change in the late 1990s.

Miller, agreeing that the committee was a useful model for the current UA to study, said that she plans to consult Jeff Roberts ’02, a founding member of the SAC, on how to best broker compromises with Institute administration on housing changes.

An audience member polled the tickets on their response to a hypothetical Institute shut-down of Anna’s Taqueria. Chambers’ ticket did not answer, and dismissed the question as “divorced from reality,” saying that Anna’s was not likely to close.

Lowell, in turn, quickly named key MIT administrators whom she would contact. After finding out from administrators what led to the crisis, she said she would then gather student opinions and organize feedback to the administration, in the form of protests if necessary.

Miller had the most memorable response, citing a riot by MIT students in 1971 during which students poured gasoline on the ground. That type of response “might be necessary,” she said.

All the tickets stressed the importance of the UA’s nominations committee, which appoints student representatives to several influential Institute committees.

Updating the UA’s Web site, which has been in stasis since last November, was also a common priority. “A better UA Web site is a crucial part of our campaign,” said Lukmann, expressing a sentiment echoed by the other tickets.

In summarizing their platform, Miller and Lukmann mentioned several far-ranging ambitions. For them, the biggest issue is improving MIT Cable, said Miller. Lukmann also said he would work to reduce textbook prices, and as act as a student advocate. Miller characterized her ticket as “old-school conservative” and promised a smaller UA.

Chambers and Cabral called for an increased UA presence by moving meetings to student residences across campus rather than holding them in the Student Center, a sentiment echoed by other tickets. The pair summarized by saying that their ticket had successfully articulated its distinguishing qualities.

Lowell’s closing statement was perhaps the most impassioned. Referring to her year of experience as UA vice president, she said she’d “done some things right, and done some things wrong.” She characterized herself as a policy person, saying she would rely on Kelch for leadership support.

Lowell lives in East Campus; her running mate Kelch lives at Zeta Psi. Chambers and Cabral reside in Sigma Nu and Chi Phi, respectively. Lukmann lives in Simmons Hall, and Miller in Burton-Conner House.