This year’s Undergraduate Association (UA) President/Vice President debate, co-hosted by The Tech and the UA Wednesday evening, featured three tickets. Each pair of candidates discussed the merits of their platform and addressed campus-wide issues, from student government transparency to dealing with student concerns over Title IX.
The President/Vice President tickets were Andrew M. Acker ’15 and Grace E. O’Malley ’15, Shruthi Sharma ’15 and Billy Ndengeyingoma ’15, and Jeffrey M. Sperling ’15 and Nathan H. Varady ’16. The debate took place on the first floor of W20, outside LaVerde’s Market from 7:30-9:30 p.m. More than 40 people were initially present and, by the end of the night, approximately 20 students remained in the audience. The debate itself, moderated by Austin J. Hess ’15, editor-in-chief of The Tech, included sections focusing on the tickets’ platforms, discussion-based questions, and, finally, audience questions.
Each ticket focused on certain parts of their platform throughout the debate. Sharma/Ndengeyingoma repeatedly brought up online education and changing the MIT campus. Sperling/Varady frequently described their experience in the UA, how they plan to change the UA Council, and ways to improve the MIT undergraduate education. Sperling listed his time on five committees as part of his qualifications. Acker/O’Malley, who portrayed themselves as UA outsiders, looked to improve social initiatives like SpringFest and invigorate the UA. All three tickets stressed the need for better communication between the UA and the student body, as well as between student leaders and the administration.
Communication and transparency
The most frequently discussed topic of the night, communication and transparency between the UA, students, and administration, permeated the conversations about CPW 1 a.m. rule and current Boston-side fraternity assembly limits.
“Over the past year there simply has been a lack of communication between the administrators and students… we felt that the current leadership did not particularly involve all the students,” said Acker. Acker and O’Malley said they would work on introducing push notifications to the MIT mobile app to update students in real time on issues being debated by the UA. Acker also proposed the idea of UA office hours and meeting with each MIT administrator on a bi-weekly basis.
Varady, commenting that every MIT undergraduate has their own “valuable” time, hopes to implement a weekly blog called the “UA and You” to inform the student body of the happenings of the UA. Emphasizing the need for “real-time” updates, Varady affirmed the importance of the current UA newsletter but said he hopes for faster updates to keep students involved in decisions.
Sharma broke down her solution to the transparency issue into three parts: self-governance, such as maintaining relationships with other student leaders; having working groups for large issues; and engaging students, possibly involving undergraduates in the UA using techniques adapted from the Graduate Student Council.
On Title IX
As the majority of the tickets addressed Title IX in their platforms as a primary concern for students, one of the first questions asked was how the candidates planned to deal with Title IX policies relevant to the undergraduate body.
O’Malley, who drew upon her experience as a Maseeh Hall Medlink and meeting with the Title IX investigator, Sarah Rankin, felt that the administration already had a strong plan for Title IX going forward. “The UA’s role is to support this [administration’s] plan of action and to implement educational campaigns on this issue,” said O’Malley.
Varady countered by stating that education on Title IX was being adequately addressed by the Title IX working group and said he instead wants to push the issue forward by establishing support groups exclusively made up of students to help one another. “If I were to be sexually assaulted and told that to Grace, she now has an obligation to tell Sarah Rankin, the Title IX investigator.” Establishing the support groups, Varady claimed, will quell any fears that students have over reporting Title IX incidents, by allowing students to open up to other students, instead of the investigator.
“There are a few gray areas which we should start clearing up. There are several presentations given out about Title IX, and it’s about time to consolidate one thorough presentation… to show what is gray, what is black, and what is white here,” said Sharma. Ndengeyingoma continued by stating that the UA can work with the IFC and other student groups to provide for standard Title IX education.
On improving the UA Council
As one of the final questions posed in the structured part of the debate, Hess asked “Do you all perceive that the [UA] Council is doing a good job right now?”
Sperling and Varady said that collaboration within the Council has improved, but the body can have better efficiency and responsiveness. Varady still maintained that the Council “was extremely ineffective.” They said that their leadership experience would help them avoid the problems they perceived to be present in previous administrations.
Sharma felt that the lack of a Presidential Summit this past year caused a breakdown of collaboration in the Council. “This is what we want to start instituting now,” said Sharma.
O’Malley felt that operational inefficiencies of the UA Council were responsible for the perceived lack of progress. Acker and O’Malley portrayed their leadership in other capacities around campus as important to their efforts to change Council operations.
In closing arguments, candidates from each ticket reiterated their backgrounds. To snaps of approval from the remaining audience, Sharma/Ndengeyingoma stated, “We have working relationships with administrators already, and that will be our greatest leverage going forward.” Sharma continued by repeating the three main points of her campaign: transparency and communication, having better integration of MIT academics with online education, and making sure students are involved with redesigning “campus for the 21st century.”
Sperling/Varady, in their closing statement, maintained the need for strong, ambitious leaders as vanguards of the UA. The two continued to emphasize their broad set of experiences within the UA, mentioning Nathan’s work on a Title IX working group, and repeating Sperling’s committee experience. “It’s time for leaders who care and who we trust”, said Sperling.
O’Malley, giving the closing statement for her ticket, said, “What’s more inspiring than two people who have no UA experience taking a stand and saying, ‘Let’s get elected president and vice president and take on these pertinent issues.’” She emphasized the ticket’s positions on student life issues, such as improving the Daytime shuttle and providing printers in Stata. O’Malley finished the night off by stating, “It’s a fresh administration we have… now it’s time for some fresh faces in the UA.”
Disclosure: Tushar V. Kamath ’16 is a member of the Everett Moore Baker Memorial Foundation Committee, a UA Institute Committee.