UA Election Candidates Discuss UA, ASA, Textbooks

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The candidates for UA president and vice president: (left to right, with the presidential candidate on top) Lauren E. Oldja ’08 and Steven M. Kelch ’08, Manisha Manmohan ’08 and Fernando Funakoshi ’09, Martin F. Holmes ’08 and Ali S. Wyne ’08.
David Templeton—The Tech

The Undergraduate Association Presidential/Vice Presidential debate drew a small crowd, as three pairs of candidates lobbied for community votes. During the debate, the candidates did not stray far from their platform statements.

Candidate pair Manisha Manmohan ’08 and Fernando Funakoshi ’09 wanted the UA to work more visibly to improve undergraduate life. The pair described a need for additional funding for the Association of Student Activities, proposed expanding SafeRide coverage and hours, and said they felt qualified despite a lack of student government experience.

Martin F. Holmes ’08, president of the 2008 class council, and running mate Ali S. Wyne ’08, UA Senator from Burton-Conner and a Tech opinion staff writer, aimed at improving communication with the administration, implementing more proximity card readers, and establishing an FSILG-Police dinner fund to improve police relations. The pair also suggested adding office hours for UA representatives and improving mid-term course evaluations.

Lauren E. Oldja ’08, UA Treasurer and Steven M. Kelch ’08, the UA Senate Speaker, had a platform focused on preserving the duration and style of Residential Exploration, protecting MIT’s community from forced “community building” by the administration, and strengthening current UA programs. They also suggested establishing an alcohol policy for small events.

The debate, which was moderated by members of The Tech, had three key focal points: changes in ASA funding, the effectiveness of the UA, and the rising cost of textbooks.

After opening statements, the discussion began with ASA funding and increases in the student life fee. Both Oldja/Kelch and Manmohan/Funakoshi were in favor of additional support for the ASA. Manmohan and Funakoshi wanted additional funding for the ASA and considered it inappropriate that the ASA denied funding to some student groups, according to Manmohan.

Kelch said that he and Oldja wanted additional staff and student backing of the ASA. “Throwing even more money at them isn’t going to necessarily get them to do more,” said Kelch.

Holmes and Wyne, however, were opposed to increasing ASA funding, concerned that any increase in the student life fee would “put an added burden on students,” said Holmes.

As in past years, a chunk of the debate was targeted at the UA itself, with candidates criticizing the UA’s structure, accountability, and effectiveness.

Manmohan said the “structure [of the UA] isn’t actually important.” What matters, she said, are “changes you can see in your day-to-day life.”

Holmes described the UA as ineffectual. “Right now, the UA is completely messed up,” he said. The UA debates “for 20 minutes about the phrasing and wording of a certain bill,” he said.

Kelch, however, was skeptical of candidates who criticize the UA. Kelch cautioned that people criticize the UA each year, but “only so that they can get elected … they don’t change it,” he said.

Textbook pricing involved a more technical discussion, touching on the financial risks involved in bulk purchases of textbooks.

Holmes and Wyne proposed requiring professors to submit a listing of required texts a month before classes. Oldja and Kelch, however, countered that a plan to reduce textbook costs was already being looked at by the UA. A requirement for professors to post textbooks online through the registrar is “in the office of the Dean of Undergraduate Education,” said Oldja.

A series of small discussions also permeated the debate, as candidates shared similar goals with slightly differing methodologies.

Both Oldja/Kelch and Holmes/Wyne considered REX a priority. The candidate pairs wanted to increase REX time and work to decrease the administrative overhead involved in REX. Manisha and Funakoshi offered no position on the REX discussion.

ASA space constraints were considered a priority for the upcoming year, and all candidates were in favor of expanding student space on campus. “We need to make more space available,” said Oldja. Manmohan and Funakoshi praised the new lockers in the reading room.

The candidates proposed a handful of methods to increase administrative transparency, wary of executive decrees that exclude student input (such as those involving Ashdown and dormitory renovations).

Holmes and Wyne proposed forming the Committee on Institute Communication and sending a UA representative to administration meetings. Oldja and Kelch argued that those responsibilities were already met by the Student Committee on Administrative Transparency and Relations.

The candidates also discussed MIT culture, cautioning against pressure from the administration to change traditions or restrict hacking. “We don’t need administrators coming in and telling us what we’re supposed to have,” said Kelch. Holmes and Wyne concurred, considering protection of tradition to be the most important part of their platform. Manmohan and Funakoshi suggested the administration establish a single policy toward hacking and fines.