Editor’s Note: Jacob London is also an executive member of The Forum, a group founded and led by Naren P. Tallapragada.
MIT students are problem solvers — when presented with a problem, we explore every possible perspective, and deploy any resources at our disposal, to find a solution.
Our student government should work the same way.
While current Undergraduate Association officials are doing their best to solve problems, three presidential candidates hope to do even better. I write not to promote one campaign’s vision — all three campaigns have lofty ambitions — but to offer my thoughts on which candidates have the most strategic, targeted, realistic, and specific plan to produce results. Although their promises are more modest than sweeping, Naren P. Tallapragada ’13 and Andrew C. Yang ’13 will deliver what we as MIT students are hard-wired to crave: solutions.
All three candidates have similar, broad goals. Transforming the UA, expanding student participation, and lobbying for a variety of campus events and institutions, are all ideas that most of us can get behind. But we can’t expect that simply “pushing” for change will yield results. We must expect our leaders to have a specific approach. We must examine not only their poetry, but the potential of their prose.
One common goal of every candidate is to make the UA a more functional governing body. In order to do so, student participation and accessibility must be expanded. Tallapragada and Yang understand that students will only make that effort if it isn’t a hassle. That’s why Tallapragada and Yang won’t rely on TechCash-incentivized surveys as the primary method of garnering student opinion. Instead, the UA would participate in as many student events as possible to talk to students face to face — minimizing the effort that students must put in to give their opinions.
Another issue that highlights the contrast in specificity is dining. Tallapragada and Yang are realistic in their assessment that the administration is simply not open to a complete overhaul of the system. But the administration has indicated that it is open to some changes, and Tallapragada and Yang know exactly who to talk to, and what arguments to make, in order to get them done. Besides having close relationships with key administrators, Tallapragada and Yang will coordinate with dining chairs of different dorms in order to present a unified voice. This voice won’t just convey students’ complaints; it will present powerful cost-efficiency arguments. Students aren’t fighting the idea of dining dorms, but want to get more value out of their dining experience. If more students are attracted to the plan by a policy change like rollover, then more students will enroll, and the cost of the dining plan will decline.
Reinforcing their potential efficacy is Tallapragada and Yang’s firm commitment to being proactive. Last year, just before the new dining plan was about to be implemented, students voiced widespread opposition to it. By that point, it was too late for the administration to simply drop implementation after years of planning. The UA can be much more effective when potential policy changes are in the exploratory phases, and Tallapragada and Yang have made it clear that students will know of potential policy changes long before their implementation is essentially inevitable.
A proactive mentality will also amplify the voice of the student body when it comes to space planning. The private businesses, dormitories, academic complexes, and recreational buildings that are built on or near MIT’s campus all have significant impact on student life. MIT has delegated future real estate decisions to its investment management corporation, making it extremely difficult for student voices to be heard in the decision-making process. Taking a realistic approach, Tallapragada and Yang understand that the first and most important step to fixing this problem is to get a seat at the table. This may not happen immediately, but through the consistent buildup of dialogue with the administration, combined with a coordinated effort to engage specific, concerned faculty members, Tallapragada and Yang would put the UA on the path toward earning more substantial influence over future space planning developments.
Yes, Jonté D. Craighead ’13 and Michael P. Walsh ’13 have more experience in student government than Tallapragada and Yang (although Andrew Yang’s extensive administrative experience has been overlooked), but this does not change the fact that Tallapragada and Yang have presented not just lofty visions of reform, but a more specific plan to effect incremental, yet substantial, changes.