UA restructuring plans surface again

Committee proposes UA council of dormitory and FSILG leaders

The Undergraduate Association is developing a new proposal that aims to restructure MIT’s undergraduate government into a more cohesive body. According to a plan released by the UA Restructuring Committee, the UA Senate could be replaced by a council composed of independently elected dormitory and FSILG leaders. If approved, the UA hopes to instate the new government during an IAP transition period.

Under the committee’s scheme, a UA council would replace the Senate as the sole representative and legislative body of the UA. The council would be composed of the presidents of each dormitory, the president of the Interfraternity Council and three IFC delegates, the Panhellenic Council president and one delegate, the Living Group Council speaker, and an off-campus representative. Such a council would consolidate disparate undergraduate governments under a “single voice,” according to the committee’s report.

“If all the presidents are in a room speaking together, you’re pretty sure that’s what the students are saying,” committee member and UA President Allan E. Miramonti ’13 said. “It would do away with the pushing of one side of an issue.”

Miramonti added that the new body would “replace the legislative aspect of the Senate with a consensus-based opinion of the council. … Decisions would be a consensus of the body, not just a document signed by a bunch of senators.”

The new proposal comes in the wake of a failed restructuring attempt last semester, spearheaded by former UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11. After failing to drum up enough support from the Dormitory Council — a key component of Modi’s restructuring vision — the UA asked the Restructuring Committee to develop a new plan. The committee’s recommendations borrow heavily from Modi’s proposal for a council of dormitory and FSILG presidents.

But unlike Modi’s proposal, the new plan does not necessitate dissolving DormCon. “DormCon is actually undergoing its own restructuring,” said Miramonti, “Since the presidents are [representatives on the council], it obviously concerns them. … If we do work with DormCon, and they change their structure, I will work with them to help them fit into the new UA structure. But, again, I’m not telling them what to do.”

The Restructuring Committee’s report suggests absorbing DormCon into the UA and assigning DormCon’s current responsibilities to two new standing UA committees: a Dormitory Affairs committee and a Dormitory Funding committee. A new UA Assistant Vice President for REX would coordinate REX events and programs, which is also something that DormCon currently handles. Miramonti said that he wants DormCon to decide for themselves how, and if, they will restructure, and that DormCon’s dissolution is not required for the rest of restructuring to go through.

A UA council would also represent a shift from a freshmen-dominated body to a largely upperclassmen body. Miramonti said that he hoped to maintain freshman involvement and retain the recently-elected Senate by encouraging committee involvement and, in the future, increasing committee recruitment efforts.

The Restructuring Committee also made suggestions for combatting “behavioral” issues within the UA, including “operational improvements and [changes to] the manner in which members within carry out their responsibilities individually and collectively,” according to the committee’s report. Former Chair of the Faculty Thomas A. Kochan — faculty facilitator for the committee — said, because of these issues, “there was not enough trust of some of the elected officials.” Miramonti said that he hopes to address these problems through constitutional changes even if the proposed restructuring is not approved.

The purpose of the committee was to examine structural and behavioral problems and to “step back a bit [from last year’s proposal],” explained Miramonti, “What are the faults of the UA? What is wrong with us? Who are the stakeholders in the UA? Whose opinion is important to the UA? … Then, after identifying what’s wrong and who is important, we developed a plan.”

Miramonti says the Senate would “ideally” approve a restructuring plan by the end of November, before dormitories begin to elect new leadership.

Why restructure now?

The UA has historically restructured itself every 10–15 years to adapt to the changing campus environment. In its current structure, the UA has had problems with effectively representing a diverse student body, said Miramonti. “There are five student governments [DormCon, the IFC, the Living Group Council, Panhel, and the UA]. So there are a lot of voices, but if they’re not well-coordinated it can lead to problems.”

Kochan agrees with Miramonti. “It was clear from last year — and maybe the year before — that the structure [of the undergraduate government] was complex and there were multiple groups,” Kochan said. “It wasn’t really clear who was really speaking for the students and how effective it was in mobilizing students’ points of view in working with the administration.”

According to Miramonti, the UA has also had problems with productivity. “There were times last year when the Senate was having seven-hour meetings. It was outrageous. We were meeting every week for that long and not getting anywhere.”

Additionally, the UA has seen senator retention problems. Since Sept. 18, four students have resigned from the Senate: Yan Zhu ’12, ILG senator; Jiahao Liang ’14, MacGregor senator (also a Tech associate opinion editor); Hollie M. O’Brien ’15, Simmons senator; and Katie M. Kauffman ’12, sororities senator.

The committee is currently soliciting feedback on restructuring from interest groups like the Student Activities Office, the MIT Corporation, and the Division of Student Life, among others.

“It’s hard to reach out to 4,000 people,” said Miramonti, “It’s a logistical problem. It’s a problem that we aren’t ignoring. It’s just one you have to be very deliberate with.”

Overall, however, Kochan said that he felt the committee has successfully incorporated and examined a wide range of input. “It [the proposal] reflects a process that brought the people who were critical of it into the discussion. So, in the committee that came up with this proposal, you had people who were quite skeptical of the original proposals that were on the table, and they worked hard and very effectively to come up with this proposal.”