This past Wednesday, Alec C. Lai ’13 submitted a letter to the Undergraduate Association (UA) and undergraduate student body, resigning from his positions as UA secretary general and vice president-elect. Lai expressed general discontent with what he perceived as a lack of respect and cooperation within the student government, particularly aimed at authority figures whom he considered “megalomaniac[al].”
This stands in contrast to the high hopes Lai harboured during his campaign in March 2011. Lai also hinted at what he saw to be a negative turn in his relationship with his running mate and president-elect Allan E. Miramonti ’13, post-election: “I don’t know if it’s personality, or what, but the change has surprised me.” In a March 7 interview with The Tech, the pair had been “confident in our ability to work as a team … we complement each other well.”
Now, a month later, Lai has not communicated with Miramonti since his resignation. Lai says he had mentioned the possibility of his resignation to Miramonti in prior conversations. “It came up twice,” said Lai. “If he didn’t take me seriously, it’s not my fault.”
Miramonti issued a statement to The Tech yesterday, thanking Lai for his past contributions, and touched on the UA’s next step. “Rest assured, [we are] poised to have an active and beneficial year,” wrote Miramonti. “[I] will continue to search for people with a drive to improve student life at MIT. The Judicial Committee is currently working on how best to fill [the vice president-elect] vacancy, and I will move forward once that process has been decided.”
According to UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11, the Judicial Board will interpret the UA Constitution and explain what steps need to be taken.
“I gave some people a heads-up, and I believe there are many people who can fill in my secretary general role,” said Lai. “As for my position as Vice President-elect … I fundamentally disagree with the principles of the [UA] society so I feel it would be inappropriate for me to have my hands all over what happens.”
Asked why he had persisted in running despite what he saw as “frustrations throughout the year,” Lai said he had considered the setbacks to be “a learning experience … even if I disagreed, I thought ‘well, if I stay on for a few more months, then it’s almost our turn to take charge.’” According to Lai, the final straw was what he foresaw as the same lack of cooperation extending to the next administration.
“I’ve spoken to various leaders quite straightforwardly,” said Lai. “My comments were not received in a way that indicated change.”
Nonetheless, both Modi and Miramonti were surprised by Lai’s letter. “The UA is taking all of Alec’s comments into consideration,” said Modi. “I personally have taken his concerns seriously, and I am sorry to see him go.”
Lai wrote at length in his resignation letter about an ideal vision for cooperation, and reiterated those sentiments to The Tech.
“One must lead by guidance and inspiration,” he said, qualifying the statement more practically by referring to his role as the president of Next House. “The environment [at Next House] is much more friendly … we have round table discussions, we compromise,” said Lai. “I am not trying to compare the two organizations; they’re different scopes, I know, but I believe there are some fundamentals essential to good leadership.”
The former secretary general also criticized various UA leaders for their “megalomania, examples of which include excessive micro-management” and cited an overall “defensive and arrogant psychosocial nature of the UA.”
Asked if he had been a supporter of the UA’s recent restructuring push, and whether or not Modi’s bill would have helped to address some of his concerns, Lai said that “the structure of the UA can change some things but the biggest change must be a psychosocial one.”
Notably, Lai’s resignation is the latest and most prominent in a series that the UA has seen this year, including several senators, a member of the UA Finboard, and the UA treasurer. “I believe that many of the earlier resignations may have been based — not on the same problems — but on similar dissonance,” said Lai. This represents a shift from statements made during his campaign, when he and Miramonti attributed the growing number of resignations as by-products of overall growth of the Senate. “I think we will be looking at a younger Senate again next year,” continued Lai.
He has shared his perspectives with sympathetic members of the UA. “I have not encouraged anyone to resign,” said Lai. “But I believe many of [my sympathizers] would not have continued their terms in the next semester … a good portion of Senators may be leaving.”
Lai is hopeful that undergraduates who have read his letter and agree with his views will try and enact change. “The easiest thing to do for those who understand and care about what I’m saying is to run for Senate and participate in the UA,” said Lai. “Yes, I’m giving this advice having resigned, but with my one-year contribution, I believe I’ve done as much as I could have in my position.”
Various undergraduate student groups, particularly living groups, have discussed Lai’s letter, particularly with regard to the accusations of “megalomania,” “blackmail,” “manipulation,” and “psychosocial arrogance.”
“I have seen one or two [of those email threads],” said Lai. According to him, his criticism is not exaggerated; “Those were the best words to clearly describe what I observed.”
The vagueness of his comments has also been noted in emails on dorm lists. “It seemed appropriate to me to not mention specifics, out of respect for the administration I was working with,” said Lai. “Naming names would not be appropriate in a public letter — that said, I have heard that some people think I’m ‘whining’ or ‘wanking’ unnecessarily. I assure you I’m not. At the same time, I’m not going to contribute to flame wars, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. In fact, I strongly suggest they hold their own opinion.”
“My suggestions for Senators is to represent your constituency but at the same time, you’re there to represent the [undergraduate] student body at MIT as a whole,” said Lai. “Compromise is the true value of student government.”