The Graduate Student Council elected Oaz Nir, a third-year PhD student and the current editor of the Graduate Student News, as its new president for the 2007–2008 school year on Wednesday.
The rest of the council’s officers include Nan Gu as vice president, Lorenna D. Lee-Houghton as secretary, and David C. Opolon as treasurer.
Nir hopes to secure a dental health plan for graduate students, he said in an interview yesterday. Dental care emerged as a key problem in fall 2007 when the Boston University Student Dental Plan, used by many MIT graduate students, decided to stop enrolling MIT students.
Both Nir and outgoing GSC president Leeland B. Ekstrom said that an equally important issue facing the GSC is increasing student input in Institute decisions.
Nir prioritizes a dental plan
By building on the work of last year’s GSC, Nir said, he will be able to create a dental plan for graduate students this year, along with a “catastrophic dental care fund” to help students in extreme need.
The lack of an MIT dental insurance plan has long challenged student leaders. In 2001, newly-elected GSC president Dilan A. Seneviratne PhD ’07 said that dental coverage was a top priority. Jennifer M. Farver PhD ’05 complained in a guest Tech column in 2002 that while many peer institutions offered dental plans, “MIT does not even provide an option to purchase dental coverage.”
Increasing student input
Ekstrom and Undergraduate Association President Martin F. Holmes ’08 collaborated this year on a student-administrator committee to increase students’ influence in MIT decisions, Ekstrom said. “We want to see what’s going well, what’s going wrong, and why,” Ekstrom said.
Nir said he hopes to continue this trend. Student involvement means “making sure that we have a say in even the early stages of decision making,” said Nir. He decried an approach where “the major structure of the decision is already framed, and students just get to fill in the details,” as he said happened with Green Hall and Ashdown House.
Green Hall residents were told in January that they would have to move out by June in order for their dormitory to house undergraduates. Students first learned that Ashdown House, W1, would be converted into an undergraduate dormitory when MIT told the city of Cambridge about its plans at an annual town-gown meeting.
Instead, Nir suggested “stakeholders need to be involved in the entire decision making process.” He called Ekstrom and Holmes’s work on this front “a good step forward.”
Outgoing president’s advice
“We had a pretty good year,” Ekstrom said. Some of the accomplishments of his term included a “3.5 percent stipend increase to RAs and TAs,” new activities like $2 dinners which may help shape a future graduate dining program, and incremental progress toward a dental plan.
Ekstrom offered the following advice to his successor: “Pick out what you really want to do” because “a lot of things creep up” and “the things you come in wanting to do, it’s easy to lose sight of them.”
Asked about other challenges his successor will face, Ekstrom mentioned the opening of NW35, the new Ashdown House.
“The opening of NW35 is exciting for the graduate community,” said Ekstrom, because it will dramatically expand the size of the “Northwest corridor” graduate student community.
When NW35 opens, the GSC’s organizing and event-planning services will help establish a community there, Nir said.
But, Nir said, some of the most important work he anticipates is the least novel. The GSC provides fundamental services for graduate students, like orientation, stipend recommendations, career development services, and advising relationships, Nir said.
Keeping these services active is “the less glamorous but most important goal,” he said.
Like his predecessor, Nir was uncontested for the position. Ekstrom suggested “leadership development” as another goal for Nir’s term.
Michael McGraw-Herdeg contributed to the reporting of this article.