Lone runners

UA election uncontested

Beginning March 16, 2011, the MIT undergraduate student body will have three days in which to vote for Allan E. Miramonti ’13 and Alec C. Lai ’13, uncontested candidates for president and vice president of the Undergraduate Association, respectively. Miramonti is currently a Senator from Random Hall, and Lai is Next House President and UA Secretary General.

Despite the underwhelming odds, Miramonti and Lai have campaigned vigorously; their platform promises to “address student engagement and improve student spaces and resources.”

“Those are the three main forks of our plans,” said Miramonti. “Student engagement particularly is a meta-issue.” The pair said that they do not believe there has been a sufficiently proactive report on student life. While the Committee on Student Life is devoted to overseeing student life, Miramonti believes the group’s role is not well-defined: “Yes, that [role] sounds vague because it is vague … they organize student activities, like a random capture-the-flag … but we want to be able to formally sit down and look at some real feedback.”

Miramonti and Lai face no opposition; there are no publicly-declared write-in candidates so far, according to UA Election Commissioner Harrison L. Bralower ’11. Miramonti would also be the first non-senior UA President since at least 1994. Nonetheless, the pair remains enthusiastic and optimistic; they have printed out business cards that advertise their campaign website, “The campus should know who we are,” said Lai. “We’ve hit every dorm at least once … yes, going door-to-door. That’s what our Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays have been devoted to these last few weeks.”

The Tech will host the UA Election Debate this coming Sunday on the first floor of the student center in front of La Verdes. If any write-in tickets announce their candidacy for UA President and Vice President, they will be considered for participation in Sunday’s debate. If Miramonti and Lai remain the only ticket by Sunday, the “debate” will take the form of a question-and-answer style session.

Miramonti and Lai explain their platform

“We want to re-establish trust and transparency between students and the administration,” said Miramonti. “I guess that’s what we want to see improve most.”

Although undergraduates and administrators represent two interest groups, the UA “is always — always — going to be pro-student,” affirmed both candidates. “Take Orientation,” said Miramonti. “It took the administration weeks to explain why REX should be cut short — budget issues. But that’s the point: [the administration] should set its goals clear, and we will try to meet you. That’s what the UA is here for.”

The administration has never said their primary motivation for suggesting Orientation changes was budgetary. On Feb. 1, Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Hastings PhD ’80 said that a desire for “efficiency” spurred plans to change Orientation, but that other factors, including the amount of free time students reported and concerns that Orientation was “too long,” were the crux of the problem.

If elected, Miramonti and Lai will have each UA committee compile a report of student responses to various issues. “This will help us identify areas that need change,” explained Miramonti. “Right now, we largely function as a reactive body; the administration tries to fix certain issues, like Orientation, and the UA scrambles to react.”

The reports will not focus exclusively on items that need improvement, either. “We also want to see what basic principles students prefer in items like dining and housing,” said Lai. “What are the values that students perceive as central to MIT?” Should the administration then propose changes, the UA will be able to either affirm or contest the proposition as beneficial to undergraduate culture and tradition.

Another important item on the Miramonti-Lai agenda is a UA help desk or directory. “We want this online on a website somewhere,” said Lai. “It would be a compilation of student resources — add/drop forms, course requirements, a link to the course guide, extracurriculars — that way students can just go to one place to easily find what they need.” Miramonti hopes to have the preliminary coding completed over the summer, and an actual functional directory established by the end of the Fall 2011 term.

“I’m not sure why there isn’t a precedent for something like this,” said Miramonti. “There have been information FAQs for freshmen, but we hope something all-inclusive like this will be useful for all classes.”

In line with their plans to engage students more actively, the balloted pair are looking to reoptimize student spaces. “We’ve already asked students what they’d like to see in the former game room [in the Student Center],” said Miramonti. “We’re also trying to let students know about obscure study places. For example, there are great spaces in the Sloan building that people aren’t aware of.” Lai predicts that the UA will reach out to undergraduates through the Senate and then work with the MIT Department of Facilities to actuate student desires. “We will probably have to spend some money too, but we think students will [be happier].”

Miramonti joined the UA in January 2010; Lai, in September 2010. The two built a strong rapport during internal meetings. “We complemented each other, skill-set wise,” said Miramonti. Lai agreed: “We clicked well as a team early on.”

When considering their joint candidacy, Lai decided that his current position as secretary general gave him a great deal of insight into communication with undergraduates. “I take minutes, organize the UA newsletter, get UA information out to students,” said Lai. “As vice president, I would focus on internal management on overseeing individual committees.”

Conversely, Miramonti has had more experience working with high-level administrators as a Senator. “I sit on [Executive] Committee,” he explained. “I’m always in the UA office; I talk to [current UA president] Vrajesh a lot, and I’m just really invested in student affairs — that’s why I’m running as president.”

The UA Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates will be held this Sunday at 8 p.m. on the first floor of W20 (Student Center).