MIT has entered a time of great and rapid change. The Institute is preparing for a major campus overhaul, selecting a new president, and trying to push the frontiers of online education. Students should have a say in all of these issues. But who will lead them?
The Tech endorses Jonté D. Craighead ’13 and Michael P. Walsh ’13 for Undergraduate Association president and vice president. The pair have a commendable background of leadership within the UA, and have also presented a relatively ambitious yet doable agenda during their campaign. Craighead/Walsh are most qualified candidates to lead MIT’s undergraduate student government.
Craighead, who comes with a background as a UA senator and speaker of the senate, is ideally positioned to hit the ground running as president next fall. He’ll have to build a relationship with a brand-new Institute president, and as he told The Tech last week, “If we start off this relationship poorly, our ability to influence decisions on campus will be greatly diminished.” It is to his advantage that he will not need to simultaneously learn how the UA works.
Craighead/Walsh have also suggested policy that will genuinely make students’ lives better, and we believe they have the know-how to pull it off — better food options in W20 and student group procurement cards (so that students are no longer burdened with seeking reimbursements), for instance. The Tech also applauds their collaborative — as opposed to antagonistic — approach to the administration.
It is worth noting, however, that Naren P. Tallapragada ’13 and Andrew C. Yang ’13 have run an impressive “UA outsider” campaign. Their vision for the UA, in fact, is bigger-picture, more long-term, and more bold than that of Craighead/Wash. In particular, Tallapragada and Yang have pointed to the issue of Institute space planning, saying students should have a louder voice when it comes to development in MIT’s surrounding areas. Tallapragada/Yang have also fielded bolder visions for promoting campus unity, an issue that holds particular importance in light of recent tragedies.
Thinking about what the UA can do beyond its traditional role is great, and it’s part of Tallapragada/Yang’s rationale for why UA outsiders can effectively run the organization. It’s a good question to think about — are UA “insiders” so stuck in their ways that they can’t see new directions for the organization?
The answer to that question is complicated, but there is an argument to me made for bringing in fresh ideas. However, the amount of catch-up Tallapragada/Yang would have to do in order to learn to simply run their own organization is extensive. They would also need to learn to navigate MIT’s diverse administrative power structures, something Craighead/Walsh have already been doing for some time.
We urge Craighead/Walsh, if they are elected, to incorporate some of the bigger-picture ideas of Tallapragada/Yang, if not invite the other ticket to join their administration directly. The combination of institutional experience and bolder perspective would be a powerful one. At the very least, it seems Craighead/Walsh have enough interest of their own in issues like space planning and the openness to hear their opponents’ pleas to be more forward-thinking about the issue.
The Tech has written before about how students should be more forward-thinking and proactive when it comes to major Institute developments, like MITx and MIT 2030.
That’s not to say smaller things aren’t important. We feel Craighead/Walsh can be relied upon to make the UA run smoothly again, push the kind of “small-but-useful” change that the UA has traditionally done (e.g. supermarket shuttles, produce market, W20 Saferide display), and be open to broader initiatives.
Some may wonder why — if the UA truly is “broken” — voting for long-time UA members would change anything. The truth behind the UA’s problems is more complex, and voters should not conflate prior UA experience with “being part of the problem.” Craighead/Walsh have a history of thinking about the UA’s problems and working to fix them, as exemplified in the recent restructuring efforts. And certainly the restructured UA has carried over many of last year’s problems, but Craighead and Walsh’s experience with the organization makes the duo well-suited to fix them.
Brendan T. Deveney ’13 and Mary A. Breton ’14 also ran an “outsider” campaign, but they lack the detailed plans or powerful vision that can compensate for no UA institutional knowledge. However, it is worth noting that Deveney/Breton showed insight and policy knowledge greater than that of past UA outsider campaigns. At Sunday’s debate, Breton also suggested an interesting concept for a type of special-interest group representation — that is, a system in which similar activity groups could collectively appeal for a policy change.
Breton, who will be a junior next year, should pursue her interest in student government if the pair does not win the election. Similar to Tallapragada/Yang, Deveney/Breton are right to say that the UA can benefit from a “fresh perspective.” But those perspectives should not come at the expense of critical institutional knowledge.
It is heartening that all three tickets have demonstrated skill, knowledge, and vision beyond that of some UA tickets of years’ past. We take it as a good sign that students realize the UA must step up its game to responsibly represent students during a critical period in MIT’s history.