With voter turnout up 13 percent, Noah S. Jessop ’09 and Michael A. Bennie ’10 won the Undergraduate Association elections for president and vice president.
Jason C. Forte ’09 and Brittany A. Holland-Marcus ’10 ended up with 183 fewer votes than Jessop and Bennie and were ranked second. Bradley H. Gampel ’09 and Willard J. Johnson ’09 placed third, and Akash A. Chandawarkar ’09 and Amanda J. Maguire ’09 placed last.
Some class council elections were especially close: Class of 2010 Vice President Laura H. Han won by a 23-vote margin, and Class of 2011 President Anshul Bhagi received 18 more votes than runner-up Ian Tracy.
Jessop eyes internal change
In an interview, Jessop described himself as a “total outsider” and said that his top priority would be to “let the UA become as strong of an organization as it can.”
Although the UA has adequate resources, good leaders, and the “infrastructure to do incredible things for the school,” it needs to be reorganized in order to be more effective, Jessop said.
Prospective leaders are turned off by the UA because they sense that it is large, slow, bureaucratic, and has a low ratio of change effected to time spent, Jessop said.
He cited inconsistent involvement by UA senators as one area that needs reform. Currently, senators adopt a particular project and manage it themselves. “People either sink or swim” in this system, which emphasizes self-motivation, he said. Some senators who have not succeeded have little idea what’s going on in the organization, he said.
Jessop said he plans to revamp this system by getting senators involved in UA committees and by making sure they stay involved with their constituencies.
The Senate’s next speaker, former presidential candidate Jason Forte, “will do incredible things,” Jessop said. “Having him as speaker is key for the success of the senate,” he said.
He said he is also hopeful about future leadership. “An efficient senate should attract good senators” who care about their living groups, he said.
Jessop also said he might reorganize the UA’s committees. Some of those committees, of which there are more than a dozen, seem unnecessary, he said.
Finally, student members of Institute committees, such as the Committee on Discipline and the Committee on Academic Performance, should report more frequently to the UA, Jessop said.
Current president emphasizes reform, collaboration
Jessop will inherit a UA which needs reform, collaboration with other organizations, and a relationship with the MIT administration, said the current president, Martin F. Holmes ’08.
Holmes said his biggest mistake when he first became UA president about a year ago was immediately attacking a laundry list of policy goals — “micromanaging” — instead of delegating most of that work.
The UA also needs to collaboration with the Dormitory Council, the Interfraternity Council, and the Panhellenic Council, Holmes said. Administrators sometimes claim that the UA does not represent undergraduates because it does not include opinions from DormCon, the IFC, or Panhel, he said. By working closely with those groups, Holmes said he hopes he can eliminate that claim, which he says keeps MIT from listening to student opinions.
Jessop should help the new Dean for Student Life understand student perspectives, Holmes said. A replacement for the outgoing dean, Larry G. Benedict, will be chosen over the next few months.
Student engagement prioritized
Jessop said a top priority would be continuing the student engagement work of the current president. Students should feel as though MIT is listening to them, Jessop said.
Even if MIT made the same decision it was planning to make irrespective of students’ wishes, would it be better for administrators to listen to students first? Yes, said Jessop. Students should be “sitting at the table when the decision happens,” he said.
Holmes was more guarded. “I wouldn’t be satisfied, but that would be clear progress,” he said, of a future where the Institute listened to students more thoroughly but made the same decisions.
To help understand how student input can shape decisions, Holmes, Jessop, and others in the UA are looking at historical archives of important MIT decisions, Jessop said.
One historical example that Holmes mentioned was the fall 1994 Strategic Housing Planning Committee, which considered a plan to turn East Campus and Senior House into graduate dormitories. The plan drew strident opposition from the MIT community. A similar proposal met equally strong objections in spring 1980 and was withdrawn within two months.
UA approachability important
More people should use the UA’s office on the fourth floor of the Student Center, Jessop said. The office’s use should resemble the frequently-populated Tech and Student Information Processing Board offices, he said.
“The UA office needs to be a place that people go to think about these issues,” he said.
Jessop said he wanted to hold “office hours” to encourage people to talk to him about student government. “I represent every single undergraduate,” he said.
In the meantime, he will start to implement some campaign promises. These short-term goals include staggering Saferide shuttles so that one leaves across the Harvard Bridge every fifteen minutes, and hiring people from SIPB to redesign the UA’s oft-maligned Web site.
“There’s so much stuff just waiting for someone to push the button,” Jessop said.