This month, three tickets will vie to be next year’s Undergraduate Association President and Vice President: Jonté D. Craighead ’13 and Michael P. Walsh ’13, Narendra “Naren” P. Tallapragada ’13 and Andrew C. Yang ’13, and Brendan T. Deveney ’13 and Mary A. Breton ’14. Campaigning officially began yesterday, and the campus will vote on April 11–13.
This is the first competitive UA President/Vice President campaign since 2010. Last year, Allan E. Miramonti ’13 and Alec C. Lai ’13 ran unopposed, and neither served out a full term. Current President TyShaun Wynter ’13 will not seek another term, and UA Vice President Amanda C. David ’13 is only seeking re-election as Class of 2013 president.
This campaign is unique in that next year’s leadership will take the reins of a newly-restructured UA. Next year’s president and vice president will likely need to continue work started last year by then-UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 and carried on by Miramonti and Wynter in replacing the UA Senate with a 21-member Council.
Next year’s UA administration will also need to forge a relationship with a brand-new Institute president. The Presidential Search Committee hopes to finish their work and select a replacement for Susan J. Hockfield by the summer. The next UA President and Vice President take office at the end of the spring term.
Craighead, for president, and Walsh, for VP, come with an extensive combined background in the UA. Craighead served as a senator from Next House his freshman year, and later as speaker of the Senate. Walsh served as senator for fraternities since his freshman year, and as UA athletics chair since his sophomore year.
Walsh is also president of Sigma Nu, a role he will continue in if elected UA vice president.
The pair are running on a platform of enhanced communication — between the UA and students, the UA and administration, and within the UA itself. Craighead told The Tech he wanted the UA to be more responsive to student opinion, and for students to know they could approach the UA with their concerns.
“We want to make it so that the UA can connect with students in a way it hasn’t been able to in the past few years,” Craighead said. “Not just, ‘oh, we’re gonna run a survey.’”
Walsh added that, if elected, the pair would work to implement a “Cookies and Conversation”-style series of meetings with randomly-selected undergraduates. The Chancellor’s office and the Division of Student Life have traditionally organized such meetings; Craighead and Walsh said they have already spoken to administrators about bringing the UA on-board.
The pair also say they’ll tackle some of the UA’s “behavioral” problems, a term the UA has used since last year to describe interpersonal issues and a lack of organizational unity.
“Let’s come up with something we can unite the whole organization behind,” Craighead said, noting that an enhanced Spring Weekend this year might be a manifestation of that kind of effort.
They also plan to continue the UA’s shift from a “war” mode to a “collaboration” mode when it comes to working with the administration. A new MIT president is a key opportunity, Craighead says.
“Having that new president in place is going to be what drives policy on campus for the next 10 years, if not longer,” he said. “If we start off this relationship poorly, our ability to influence decisions on campus will be greatly diminished.”
Tallapragada and Yang, both UA outsiders, say they’ll bring their leadership experience in other arenas to the UA. Tallapragada is the president of The Forum, a student group that holds discussions on campus issues and other topics. Tallapragada says his ability to facilitate and moderate student discussions is something a UA president needs.
Yang is captain of the heavyweight crew team, and says his ability to motivate teams to achieve goals is something the UA vice president — who is traditionally in charge of the UA’s internal workings — will serve him well despite no prior experience in the UA itself.
Like Craighead and Walsh, Tallapragada/Yang also think the UA has communication problems.
“Who exactly speaks for undergraduates?” Yang said. “A lot of students don’t know.”
The UA should be an “effective conduit and voice for all students,” he added.
The duo have also taken a broader policy view, pointing to issues facing undergraduates beyond the usual campus issues like dining and orientation. Tallapragada says that he wants to “assert” the student voice when it comes to MIT’s investment and commercial development activities in Cambridge. At the same time, he acknowledges that there are “practical limitations” to students’ involvement in those decisions, and the UA will “operate within those constraints” to get the most for students.
And though they have not been a part of the UA previously, Tallapagada and Yang say they’ve contacted a host of current and former UA officials to learn more about the organization and where its problems are.
Also like Craighead/Walsh, Tallapragada/Yang say they see restructuring, and the entrance of a new MIT president, as a “golden opportunity” for new leadership.
“You’ve changed all the variables” that affect how effective the UA could be, says Tallapragada. “It’s really a question of motivating human capital.”
Deveney and Breton are also UA outsiders — Deveney is a member of the varsity water polo and swim teams, and Breton is Sigma Kappa Vice President of Philanthropic Services.
“Our experience in the UA is professedly limited, but we hope that our fresh perspective, enthusiasm, and ideas will catalyze our campaign and ensure success in improving the experience of undergraduates at MIT,” they wrote in an email to The Tech.
Communication was, again, a campaign theme. “[We want to] make sure people know what the UA is doing … make sure people know what resources are available through the UA,” Deveney said.
Deveney suggested that a website where suggestions for the UA could be voted up or down — similar to reddit.com — could help break the communication barriers between the student body and the UA. The pair would also use the web to provide weekly UA updates and publicize events with a cross-campus appeal.
Their vision for the UA is focused on student life policy. Deveney wants to make sure that the “freelance, maverick” MIT student culture isn’t stifled by institutional restraints, especially in light of a new president.
Improvements to the dining system and changes to REX/Orientation also topped their policy considerations. The details of the meal plan implementation can be fine-tuned to better serve students, they say.
Candidate platforms and contact information can be found at http://elections.scripts.mit.edu/candidates/.