GUEST COLUMN Why I’m resigning

Pervasive negativity and bureaucracy demotivate members and undermine the UA

The Undergraduate Association (UA) is currently in a state of turmoil and change. Internal conflicts have hindered the UA from performing at its full capacity. Recently, the UA decided to focus on governmental restructuring, convinced that the current structure is the root of the problem. That, however, is not the main issue that the UA faces. The following casts light on the psychosocial situation.

First, many members of the UA do not have respect for the Association and its members; these members include some of the higher decision makers in the UA, influencing the entire group with their negative attitude, one that is surely not conducive to teamwork. Those that are considered “incompetent” are quickly disparaged, discouraged, and even discarded. We do have a relatively young Senate and Exec this year, as presented in the State of the UA speech at the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester, but this was a chance to take the time and effort to cultivate new leaders. To my dismay, the lack of such spirit has led to a multitude of resignations instead.

Though this inherently poses a problem, it would be less of one if the leaders were not so megalomaniacal. This arrogance creates a pervasive attitude within the UA to belittle and dismiss rather than to foster cooperation with other members. We see that when a mistake is made in Senate, many members do not hesitate to mention, and sometimes humiliate, the person that made the mistake. This prevents the many new members that are still learning the ropes from participating. We claim that senators are too quiet and don’t speak their mind on issues but are quick to dismiss their opinions if they do speak up, creating an impossible environment for them to gain confidence and leadership skills. As an example, verbatim minutes were mandated this year, in my opinion, not as a form of archiving history but as one to hold people (both administration and members) accountable for every word said.

The combination of these factors leads to the bureaucracy that has come to characterize the UA. Many officers are more involved with hoarding their power than to cooperate and reallocate their time and effort for the betterment of the actual organization and of the student body. This has lead to instances of blackmail, threats, manipulative ploys, and many more underhanded actions that have no place in the UA. To be an effective leader of an organization of voluntary participation, one must learn that he or she is not there to provide strict orders. One must lead by guidance and inspiration, for the best way to get effective volunteers is to appeal to their potential and passions within — maximizing consonance and not dissonance.

The effect does not only stop with internal matters. The defensive and arrogant psychosocial nature of the UA extends to policy and communication with the administration. The UA, as a result, seems often unwilling to cooperate with the administration. It seems like we’d rather fight with the administration than to come up with new ways to benefit students as a team. As mentioned in our original platform, the UA can no longer act as a reactive and defensive force; it needs to be one that proactively seeks to collaborate and establish trust in the administration. This, to some members of the UA, would be perceived as a statement of naiveté, but I find it more a statement of truth that needs to be embraced.

Overall, the UA has become a bureaucracy that has largely been unable to function as a team, both internally and with the outside administration. There are certainly instances within committees and in certain institute committees where teamwork flourishes, and we see brilliant results, but the leadership at large does not seem capable of such collaboration or willing to adapt such a new system. Arguments, barriers, and blockades are consequences of the above attitudes; humiliation of others and an unwillingness to change become the standard ways of enacting and maintaining forms of positional power. Consequently, rather than representing the interests and passions of the student body, the UA has evolved into a playground for these elected leaders to stroke their own egos.

When I ran for vice president, I genuinely hoped that the UA would be open to moving toward teamwork and collaboration, both internally and with the administration, with an emphasis on leading by inspiration and motivation.

To my dismay, both the current and the incoming UA leaders have recently made clear that they do not even think these are fundamental problems for the UA. Incorrect directions and methods for the recent restructuring and continued arguments over positional power are just a few such examples. Furthermore, they were not and are not willing to collaborate with me on considering such changes. In fact, more than once, key figures in the UA have voiced that, were I to attempt to facilitate such changes, they would utilize their powers to damage my status, not only in the UA but also the greater student community. Accordingly, I have decided to resign in both capacities, as the current UA Secretary General and the incoming UA Vice President.

Certainly, I can imagine the numerous rebuttals from the UA and members of the student body: “Your idealistic thoughts are those of naiveté, not practicality; this is clearly an expression of inexperience.” “I think you hold some truth in your arguments, but the leadership has told me differently.” “Your actions may or may not be true, but such a public resignation and declaration shows lack of foresight.” Even, “Your efficiency with minutes was recently called into question; what makes you capable of speaking on behalf of the students if you can’t even handle that?”

To the first point, as I have previously assured, my decision is not one of naiveté but one of identifying a prevalent problem I believe many officers are unable to admit. We choose to investigate structure or some tangible means of change, but in reality the problem lies in the treatment and respect of the members of the organization.

To the second point, are you on the fence because others who have achieved higher positions than you or I or who have had more experience in the organization said otherwise? Trust your own perspective on the matter. Did you enjoy working with the seniority or was it a relationship of fear or pressure? You do not need to make a public statement to jeopardize your position, as would certainly happen in the current state of the UA, but think carefully about how the UA has made you feel. That’s what the UA needs more of: an adherence to our internal moral compass, not practical politics.

“Your actions may or may not be true, but such a tremendous resignation and public declaration shows lack of foresight.” I may be a rising junior, and I may only have had one year of UA experience. I may have won an “unopposed” election that puts my qualifications into question. Nonetheless, I know that the UA is there to advocate for students. The current UA administration has made a claim of maximizing transparency so that the students know exactly what we’re doing. I make these statements so the students may understand the exact state of their leadership and hold the UA accountable for the hostile environment that has been created.

Finally, as to the recent accusation against my capability as Secretary General, I can assure that this resignation has nothing to do with that occurrence, but is rather a compilation of thoughts that have built up over the semester. If anything, I was unable to continue in my full capability as Secretary General because there was little concern and assistance for the amount of work that goes into my full range of responsibilities (lack of a collaborative spirit), and the hostile and accusatory working environment and leadership have removed any passion that originally pushed me through my position.

For those that have chosen to hear me out, thank you, and I hope that you have gained some insight into the state of undergraduate leadership. I sincerely hope you hold the incoming administration responsible for it. As for those that hoped for me and my above vision to be part of the next leadership, rest assured that I have not given up my passion and dream for providing opportunities and programs that enhance student life. Instead, I will be working in a different capacity, outside of the UA but directly with the administration, to continue to provide for the undergraduates next year.

As for some concluding remarks on responsibilities, any unfinished minutes that I have taken under my position as Secretary General will be completed. In addition, I ask that the student body not hold the incoming President, Allan E. Miramonti ’13, responsible for my particular contributions to our platform (enhanced communication, strategy sessions, and the UA Help Desk), as I will no longer be assisting in those projects.

Thank you very much again, undergraduates, for your faith in me and for reading this lengthy letter. I deeply apologize for needing to make these resignations, but I will definitely continue to assist the undergraduate student body. Most of all, I hope the UA will take my parting comments seriously, as a direction for improvement. The UA has taught me a lot over the past year in proper leadership, and I hope my final statement will be able to guide the UA in return.

Alec C. Lai is the former UA Vice President-elect and former UA Secretary General.