At the Undergraduate Association (UA) Senate meeting on Monday, March 28, UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 proposed a total overhaul of the UA Constitution to address internal organizational issues, in conjunction with 42 UAS 14.2, the Bill to Unify the Undergraduate Student Voice at MIT. The UA passed a bill proposed by Senate Speaker Jonté M. Craighead ’13 — 42 UAS 14.1 — which formed an ad-hoc committee to review the current structure of the UA and to consider the changes proposed in 14.2. Together, the bills may mark the beginning of the end of the UA Senate.
Modi’s bill, 14.2, proposes a new constitution that would dissolve the Senate and form a new Council of Representatives. The Council would be comprised the presidents of the 12 dormitories, the president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the president of the Panhellenic Association (Panhel), the speaker of the Living Group Council, and an elected off-campus representative.
“There are two major purposes behind [my] bill: the first is unifying the student voice, and the second is a more efficient student government,” said Modi.
“This bill addresses the issue of unity by bringing all of the major ‘stakeholders’ in the room together; the Council will cover all MIT [undergraduates] in that sense. On the efficiency side, the outlined structure is more streamlined and ties more directly into the dorms, the IFC, Panhel, and so on.”
Each Council member would have a number of votes proportional to the number of constituents he or she represents, as given by the MIT Housing Office. Under the proposed system, a dorm president must cast all of his or her votes toward one stance; in contrast, the current Senate allows multiple senators representing one dorm to vote independently.
Modi said that since this changes the role of dorm presidents in the UA, DormCon will need to vote in support of 14.2 for it to pass. According to the draft constitution submitted with 14.2, the Dormitory Council Constitution will cease to be in effect if 14.2 is passed by the Senate and DormCon.
The bill also eliminates the current role of UA Senators. “When their terms end at the end of the academic year, I will help in any way I can to find a space [for the senators] on UA committees,” said Modi.
The ad-hoc committee proposed by 14.1, headed by Senator for Fraternities Timothy R. Jenks ’13, is in the process of determining whether the measures of 14.2 would fulfill Modi’s intentions. “The [14.1] committee is composed of 20 people, leaders of student groups, who will review whether or not the proposed system is really optimal,” said Alec C. Lai ’13, vice president-elect of the UA. “This could be a radical change to the Senate, and we want all undergraduates to have a voice in the restructuring.”
Although dissolution of the Senate may seem extreme, the UA could be reverting to a decades-old system. According to the MIT 1969 Annual Report to the President, a past UA body — the Institute Committee (InsComm) — was dissolved due to “disinterest or negativity toward the irrelevance of InsComm.”
It was replaced by Senate’s immediate predecessor, “a complete participatory democracy with a very loose structure … a General Assembly (GA) composed of students elected from living groups upon an approximate proportional representation basis, and presided over by the UA President elected by popular vote,” according to the report.
Since then, “times change and issues change,” said Allan E. Miramonti ’13, president-elect of the UA.
“The mindsets of the students change, and right now we are looking to optimize efficiency,” he said. Unity and efficiency were at the core of recent recommendations made by the UA’s Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee, comprised of faculty, staff, and alumni associated with the UA, meets three times a year with UA committee chairs, senators, and officers to offer insight from an external perspective, according to the UA website. “[The Commmittee] explored the idea of revising the internal structure of the UA early on in the year,” said Modi. “Then, at the beginning of March, they re-emphasized the importance of this issue, without giving us specifics.”
Craighead’s first proposal, 42 UAS 14.3, was his response to the Advisory Committee’s advice. The bill had suggested the creation of an Undergraduate Coordinating Committee (UCC) while retaining the existing Senate structure. The bill was voted down on Monday.
“It would give us a better idea of who we want to engage,” said Craighead. “Right now there’s a lot of confusion about what the student opinion is when the administration, for example, approaches us.” None of the separate groups or committees would be allowed to represent their constituencies unless the UCC authorized them to do so.
“Some of the complaints about my bill were that it didn’t address internal issues, which is valid — it wasn’t designed to,” said Craighead. “The rhetoric is that we need less structure, but I think our structure is perfectly fine as is.”
Craighead considers 14.2’s proposal to be “too weak, and not enough checks are in place.”
The ad-hoc committee was initially given a week to work before reporting back to the Senate at the next Senate meeting this Monday, April 4. But according to the ad-hoc committee’s Wednesday meeting minutes, Jenks intends for the committee to spend longer than a week — but not more than two — deliberating.
Craighead has reservations about the speed of the process. In an open letter in this issue of The Tech, he acknowledged that some have suggested the “unpreparedness” of the UA’s incoming president and vice president may be why changes are being pushed before the end of this semester. However, Craighead also noted that “if it is possible for an elected student representative to fail in implementing the proposed Constitution, doesn’t that speak to inherent flaws?”
“Despite the criticism, I maintain that these two individuals would do an excellent job in upholding any Constitution,” he added.
Craighead also warned against haste. “I find it a bit inconsistent to recommend that we press for no more than a week to review changes affecting the fundamental means by which students are represented,” he wrote after noting that the UA has asked the administration for a 60-day review process of all major changes that affect students.
The president- and vice president-elect expressed optimism and confidence in the face of uncertainty and transition. “Our top priority, regardless of what structure comes out of this, is to pick a team that will not be vulnerable to infighting,” said Miramonti.
“Alec has the skill set necessary to build a great team … no matter what system, we’re going to be efficient.”