Editor’s Note: Ryan Normandin is the UA Council representative from MacGregor House, formerly UA senator.
On the Saturday prior to the UA debate, I had the privilege of interviewing all three tickets running for UA president (UAP) and vice president (UAVP). Let me begin by saying that all three of these tickets were enthusiastic and it was a pleasure to discuss campus issues with them. However, only two of these tickets are qualified enough to be considered for the positions.
Brendan T. Deveney ’13 and Mary A. Breton ’14 were certainly sincere in their desire to improve undergraduate life, but they lacked a sophisticated understanding of the most pressing issues facing students. They hadn’t heard of MIT 2030, had only a superficial understanding of the roles of UAP/VP, and did not have a clear answer to what they thought was the most important issue facing undergraduates. If Deveney and Breton are seriously interested in holding the positions they are running for, I would strongly encourage them to engage with the UA more strongly and develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues facing students. If they do that, then I am confident that — although Deveney will be graduating — Breton will be a viable candidate next year, should she commit herself to the preparation that goal entails. For now, however, the pair does not have the vision or knowledge necessary to run the UA.
The remaining two tickets are both quite strong, albeit for different reasons. Jonté D. Craighead ’13 and Michael P. Walsh ’13 are the candidates with the most experience working with the UA. Craighead served as speaker of the senate and Next House senator, and Walsh has experience as chair of the Athletics Committee and fraternities senator. Both were also involved in the restructuring that resulted in the dissolution of the Senate and creation of the UA Council.
However, serving in a position of leadership does not automatically make one qualified for higher positions; it is what one does in those positions that is relevant. As speaker, Craighead presided over some of the longest meetings ever — stretching at the longest to six hours — which was a major factor in the unprecedented number of resignations and motivated beginning the restructuring process (however, roughly two-hour meetings were more typical). This could be either a positive or a negative, depending on how it’s viewed; perhaps the fact that meetings stretched so long under Craighead was indicative of just how badly the Senate needed restructuring. After all, Craighead was just following the rules.
At the same time, the position of speaker could have been used more effectively to limit the length of discussions, encouraging more strongly the use of the mailing list outside of Senate meetings, and even taking a lead in proposing legislation to simply cap the length of Senate meetings. Although Craighead did none of these things, his intimate involvement in restructuring led to the development of a body that I consider to be superior to Senate structurally. Whether he should again be put in charge of it is questionable, given the details above.
Naren P. Tallapragada ’13 and Andrew C. Yang ’13 have almost no UA experience, and this is unfortunate. Although the pair insisted in their interview that it was in fact a strength and that they will have new, fresh ideas that would be impossible to come up with for those inside the UA, understanding the extensive structure and intricacies of the committees, Council, and the rest of the UA are most definitely advantageous.
Another element that the duo is missing — that Craighead and Walsh have — is connections with administrators. This, however, is not as critical, as I believe that the pair is more than capable of rapidly developing such relationships. And despite the lack of UA experience, they do have experience framing and discussing issues. Naren is one of the founding members of the student group “The Forum,” which discusses current events issues, including those taking place at MIT. They stressed during their interview their ability to facilitate discussion, and this was evident when I spoke with them. They excelled at framing the issues, identifying what the key points were, and considering the important questions moving forward.
However, my fear is that they will be stuck doing just that: facilitating and not taking an active enough role in the position of a leader. When asked questions, the pair often responded with more questions that would need to be considered, rather than giving me a solid position. It was clear that they intended these questions to be answered by information they would gather from students upon election. And while that is certainly a perfectly valid way of running a government, I’m not sure that someone who simply channels the will, or lack thereof, of students is what the UA needs right now. A strong leader who has solid positions and knows how to accomplish set goals, while also incorporating input from students, is what the UA needs rather than someone to serve purely as a conduit for students’ voices.
What then, besides experience, are the key differences? Both tickets have similar views on the role that the UA Council should play, serving as a managing body and in an advisory capacity. They also have similar views regarding the roles of the president and vice president and the relative importance of issues on campus.
The difference between them is in the scope of their vision and what they hope to accomplish. If Craighead and Walsh are elected, I have no doubt that they will accomplish almost everything on their agenda because all the goals they set are definitely attainable and they are exceedingly capable individuals. If you vote for them, you know that you will be voting “safely,” for a ticket that will do what they said and be successful. Tallapragada and Yang, on the other hand, have much more of a “big-picture” idea of what the UA should be. They have a passion for helping students and making the UA into what they believe it has the potential to be. Not all their goals are “safe”; while they will certainly accomplish the more standard goals they’ve set (those similar to Craighead and Walsh), they are unlikely to do so as well or as thoroughly as their opponents. However, they, more than Craighead and Walsh, have the potential and the vision to invigorate the UA and the undergraduate student body and to really, truly create a culture shift in how undergraduate life is experienced. Yet this possibility is far from assured, and voting for them on this basis is risky — if they fail in the big vision area, they will be inferior to Craighead and Walsh in the others. But if they succeed in that area, then they will be exactly what the UA needs to have a truly transformative year.
I approached this column with a mind to endorse one of the tickets. By endorsing a ticket, I would back 100 percent the ability of that ticket to be the best. But between Craighead/Walsh and Tallapragada/Yang, it is a coin toss, a decision between the safe bet and the one that could either be a flop or a huge success. This is not a problem; rather, it is wonderful that there are two very capable tickets running this year. I would be excited to work with either pair, and I ask that every student reading this votes this week. The UA is at a crucial junction in its history, and whoever wins will have a heavy burden to bear, and we need every one of you to decide who is best-suited to bear that burden and turn the UA into what you believe it should be.