An Open Letter to the Incoming UAP/VP
Dear Noah and Mike:
Congratulations on your victory! Your candidacy has sparked tremendous interest: Voter turnout was up by 13 percent this year, with 2,088 votes cast. Over half of the student body voted.
You will lead a student population that is far more engaged than the one that we saw when we arrived at MIT four years ago. Then, the UA was a mere blip on most students’ radar screens (the radar screens of those students who actually knew that the UA existed). It was viewed with suspicion at best and was more often ridiculed as irrelevant.
Today, because of a series of high-profile incidents that sharpened tensions between administrators and students, as well as — we would like to think — proactive efforts on our part, the situation is quite different.
The most important members of the administration know that student engagement is at the top of the UA’s priorities, as do the most influential members of the faculty and the Corporation. We have ended our time in office by establishing and constituting the Task Force on Student Engagement, a group whose recommendations are likely to be taken very seriously in future years.
This task force will not only allow you and the UA to make key reforms in specific areas (for example, dining); it will also allow you to introduce a student voice in areas where it has yet to be consulted.
These are ambitious objectives. Luckily, you will have the privilege of working with an unusually strong set of Senate and Executive officers. Furthermore, your administration may well be the first in memory to experience strong relations with the Dormitory Council, the Interfraternity Council, and the Panhellenic Council.
It is difficult to imagine a better set of circumstances to inherit.
Now that we are on our way out, we thought that we might pass on some advice:
When we came into office, we were so eager to demonstrate concrete progress that we undertook several scattered initiatives without establishing a broad framework in which they could or should occur — student engagement is precisely that framework. Stay focused on high-level, strategic priorities, delegating specific projects to Senators and your committee chairs.
Senators are the UA’s most public face. If they do not feel invested in the organization, the UA will likely be perceived as ineffectual even if it is registering many accomplishments. In our time here, we have seen many individuals who came to Senate with incredible ideas and energy only to grow frustrated with its bureaucracy and inefficiency.
Remember the three C’s: communication, communication, and communication. More often than not, poor (or, in far too many cases, absent) communication is at the root of the UA’s problems.
We have many reasons to be frustrated with the administration. However, we share some of the burden for moving forward. We need to do a better job of understanding administrative perspectives in good faith and communicating our own perspectives without adopting a presumptuous tone.
Administrators have told us that they do not share their personal viewpoints because they are afraid that students will misquote them, initiate rumors, or use those statements as a basis for criticizing the administration; there is certainly some truth to this claim. That being said, it is difficult to redress this state of affairs if we are neither given access to the channels in which high-level strategic decisions are made nor provided the rationales for crucial decisions even after submitting repeated requests. The Task Force offers a promising way out of this chicken-and-egg problem. Do not neglect to take advantage of this rare opportunity.
Keep up the good fight, guys! This year can be the most transformative one that the UA and the students who they represent have had in quite some time. Carpe diem!
Martin F. Holmes ’08 and Ali S. Wyne ’08 are the outgoing President and Vice-President of the Undergraduate Association.