The role of Undergraduate Association President is rigorous, time-consuming, and often thankless. It is no insignificant challenge to provide guidance and leadership to the UA committees, supply a voice to the Senate, maintain relationships with other student governments, and develop a rapport with the “powers that be” on campus. An outstanding President must do all these things while constantly fighting for the interests of students. And the UA President must do so in a system that, by design, discounts students’ voice. Only candidates with ability, passion, and self-assuredness can accomplish lasting change. We recommend that you vote for the ticket of Noah S. Jessop ’09 and Michael A. Bennie ’10, which is most likely to excel.
Circumstances have conspired this year to present us a large and diverse set of candidates for the next year’s UA leadership. This strong level of interest means that the UA could potentially be very healthy next year. The competition suggests that many students care about proactively lobbying the MIT administration on important topics. Among these tickets, there are clear differences with respect to their prior experience, their goals and values, their capacity to unify the student body, and the presence to forcefully and confidently represent the best interests of students.
The ticket of Akash A. Chandawarkar ’09 and Amanda J. Maguire ’09 stakes the strength of their campaign on a long record of UA service, in the Senate and Class Councils. But this record does not demonstrate novel approaches to reform, which their campaign claims to champion. Chandawarkar helmed one of the most dysfunctional Class Councils of recent memory — but he says a top priority is reforming the Class Council system. And some of Chandawarkar’s statements have shown a troubling disconnect between his values and those of many undergraduates. Contrary to his assertions, the solution for a more cohesive campus community does not live in radical changes to our residence system or in large annual parties funded and organized under the auspices of the UA.
While the campaign of Bradley H. Gampel ’09 and Willard J. Johnson ’09 certainly has a refreshing air of lighthearted populism, a closer examination unveils a pair of candidates ill-prepared to lead the advocacy-driven UA. The candidates’ statements leave us with the distinct feeling that they would be much happier organizing a campus pep rally than tackling the tough issues of campus dining, student rights, and curriculum reform, all of which will be prominent in the coming year. Their statements also demonstrate a shocking naiveté about the way MIT makes decisions — for example, their first priority in office is “to establish an institute policy that requires signed UA approval before any decision directly affecting the students can be made by the administration.” As much as we may dream of a day when undergraduates end up on MIT’s organization chart, this is clearly not a policy that the administration would ever seriously consider, nor is it common practice at any of our peer institutions.
The ticket of Justin C. Forte ’09 and Brittany A. Holland-Marcus ’10 is adequately prepared to assume leadership of the UA. They would be fine administrators, and they would be able to maintain the UA’s status quo. But an outstanding UA administration depends not only on relationships with administrators and a long list of internal changes: it requires vision, broad understanding, and the spirit to forcefully argue on behalf of student interests. The voice of the student body cannot be muted. Many of the goals to which Forte and Holland-Marcus have committed themselves are long-established UA policies or initiatives started by the current UA president — nothing seems novel. A primary and perennial criticism lodged by UA candidates is approachability: how well do students understand what their government is doing? As UA Public Relations chair this year, Holland-Marcus could have tried to solve this problem, but she did not do so effectively. Nevertheless, she seems to have the potential for strong UA leadership in the future.
Noah S. Jessop ’09 and Michael A. Bennie ’10 have shown a strong ability to present themselves, their visions, and their goals. They are not the most experienced candidates, but this deficiency is made up for by their ability to speak forcefully and confidently on an issue. This skill is critical to both roles. This forcefulness is their novel contribution to the candidate field, and it is essential to a functional UA. The president must convince the faculty and administrators he meets with. The vice president must organize the internal workings of the UA. Jessop and Bennie have shown a deep and sincere understanding of many of the Institute’s unique communities. They have demonstrated a mature understanding of the conflicts inherent to our campus dynamics. This candidate pair seems to realize that strengthening campus identity means strengthening constituent groups, protecting student choice, and lobbying for a more direct role in shaping the Institute’s future.
Jessop and Bennie are hardly unique in their pledges to fight to support Institute tradition, to unify the voice of the various undergraduate student governments, and to help people understand what the UA is doing by getting its Web site and other information systems fixed. While they are not they only candidates to support these goals, their personalities seem the most likely to get things done.
In the near future, the UA and the faculty will try to put strong pressure on the administration to give students more consideration in Institute decisions. The next UA president and vice president could make such an initiative succeed, or they could kill it. It will be up to next year’s team to overcome inertia and get a real, coherent policy that works for students and faculty. Noah Jessop and Mike Bennie are best prepared to fight on behalf of students. Forte and Holland-Marcus are also worthy of consideration.