On Sunday evening, the candidates for Undergraduate Association President and Vice President debated issues ranging from housing concerns to MIT students’ relationship with the administration.
The tickets for UA President and Vice President are, respectively, Akash A. Chandawarkar ’09 and Amanda J. Maguire ’09, Jason C. Forte ’09 and Brittany A. Holland-Marcus ’10, Bradley H. Gampel ’09 and Willard J. Johnson ’09, and Noah S. Jessop ’09 and Michael A. Bennie ’10.
Most of the candidates were in accord on the need to improve UA transparency, improve the student-administration relationship, address dining concerns, and make SafeRide more dependable, but the candidates’ specific perspectives on the problems varied.
Improving student involvement
All tickets voiced the need to improve UA transparency through an improved, maintained UA Web site, but the Web site was a key to Jessop and Bennie’s platform. Bennie suggested a UA “portal” which would have different depth of content for students with differing levels of interest. For example, a student only interested “a little bit” in UA affairs could see a condensed version of UA news.
Chandawarkar said that “all [UA] meetings should be open and publicized to the general MIT population,” among other suggestions. In particular, he cited how “people have no idea what the class councils are doing,” and mentioned that he is trying to get their meetings to open to the public right now through the Senate. When asked why he and Maguire have not already made more attempts to improve transparency of the UA in their past experience, given that it is such a large part of their platform, Chandawarkar responded that it took him some time to understand the workings of the UA.
Forte suggested a number of changes, including publishing UA meeting locations and agendas beforehand, and making the lists of committee members public. He also suggested working more closely with dorm governments and The Tech to get students more involved.
Referring to the purported current opacity of the UA, Gampel said “I didn’t even know what the UA was my first two years here.” Johnson suggested video addresses to students via the UA Web site. Also, he proposed a student question-and-answer session in the student center with the UA Executive Board every two weeks.
Gampel pointed to the fact that “the Baker senator just quit,” and he proposed a system for maintaining “senator accountability.” He said “some senators get very involved, and others end up doing nothing.”
“So what does the United States do? You start ripping people in newspapers. You get [them] embarrassed. You ruin their name,” Gampel said. He went on to say, “you’re not necessarily supposed to attack people, but we’re saying use The Tech as a device to kind of hold the senators accountable.”
The issue of dining was brought up on a number of occasions during the debates, but the most disagreement on the issue came after a student, Vinayak V. Ranade ’09, asked the candidates whether “dining with good food” or “community building” through dining were more important, in reference to the administration’s recent claim that dining halls will help foster community.
All of the candidates except for Jessop and Bennie chose “dining with good food,” largely because they claimed that “you can’t force community,” in the words of Gampel. In response to the question, Holland-Marcus said, “People hang out where they’re comfortable and we don’t want to force people into a community that they don’t want to be in.” Maguire said, “you can build community elsewhere, not just in the dining hall.”
Jessop and Bennie said “community building” was more important, but the dining hall model is restrictive and does not necessarily promote community. Jessop brought up the example of Amherst College, which has 400 students and a single dining hall in which people “sit with their friends, ignoring everyone else,” according to him.
The candidates also discussed their qualifications relative to other candidates. The tickets of Chandawarkar/Maguire and Forte/Holland-Marcus were the two most experienced. Chandawarkar was the Class of 2009 president for two years and is currently a UA Interfraternity Council Senator, and Maguire has had two years of experience on the UA Senate and is currently UA Events Chair and UA Dining Vice Chair. Forte has been involved in the UA for the past two years and is currently the UA Senate Vice Speaker, and Holland-Marcus is currently the UA Public Relations Chair.
Bennie was a UA senator from freshman year until recently when he moved into his fraternity, while Jessop has no previous UA experience. Drawing on the fact that, between the two, they had lived in Burton-Conner, East Campus, fraternities, and off campus, Jessop claimed that “we collectively have seen what different parts of campus are like.”
Neither Gampel nor Johnson have previously held positions in the UA. They both stressed their athletic and fraternity experience. Gampel said that his position as the basketball team’s captain prepares him for the position; he likened the coach to the MIT administration and the team players to the students. They also stressed their strong friendship, their personality, and their ability to communicate as qualities that make them strong candidates.
The candidates also discussed the importance of a good relationship with the administration.
Forte suggested working with “influential people who have the administration’s ear.” “It will be very hard for the administration to ignore Ray Stata ... or David Koch,” he said. When asked about his ticket’s distinguishing factors, Forte pointed to the ticket’s experience and existing relationships with administrators, saying, for example, that he has attended MIT Corporation meetings and met the Corporation’s members.
Chandawarkar said that, given his ticket’s experience, “we already have a working relationship with the administration.” He said that “we should not work against the administration [rather] we should work with them” to find solutions that work for both sides.
Jessop told a story about a student’s experiences on the W1 founders group committee to illustrate his view on the general disconnect between students and the administration. According the Jessop, the committee was working to decide on dining options in the renovated W1. He said that the administration waited until a student mentioned what they wanted to hear: that a single kitchen in the basement could be a possibility. Then, the administrators “immediately latched onto that point.” He concluded by saying, “Student involvement is not the same as students parroting what the administration wants us to say.”
Johnson said that he has not worked with administrators through the UA, but he said he worked with administrators through athletics and his fraternity. In particular, he said that he has met with Larry G. Benedict, the outgoing Dean for Student Life.
Mailing list response
At 12:46 a.m. on Monday, hours after the debate ended, Sarah C. Hopp ’08 forwarded an e-mail to the ec-discuss mailing list sent by Chandawarkar to the UA Senate over IAP. The e-mail was Chandawarkar’s response to a survey of UA senators that he chose to send to the entire Senate. In the forwarded e-mail, Chandawarkar wrote in support of placing incoming freshmen into random dorms and moving Residence Exploration (REX) to sophomore year. He wrote that “I think it defeats the purpose of having a ‘diverse’ campus if the campus self segregates and the MIT community/UA doesn’t take measures to prevent it.”
This e-mail was then forwarded to several other dorm mailing lists, including senior-haus, bc-talk, and next-forum. It spawned a long thread of e-mails, most of which were in opposition to Chandawarkar’s idea of randomized housing.
Chandawarkar responded to the thread with an e-mail to bc-talk at 2:36 a.m. that same night. He wrote that “I NEVER said this is something I would try to implement at all (and you won’t find this in my platform either), but merely threw it out as an ‘out of the box’ and ‘radical’ idea that relates to fostering community.” He added that his responses to the survey were simply “answering Martin’s brainstorming call.”
The full platforms for all of the candidates can be found at http;//vote.mit.edu. Electronic voting begins Monday, April 14 at 12:01 a.m. and continues until Thursday, April 17, with paper balloting following on Friday, April 18.