UA finishes largest overhaul in years

Back-and-forth over internal restructuring ends with new Council

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The UA Senate met for the last time ever on Dec. 12. It will be replaced by a 21-member council in the spring.
Christopher A. Maynor—The Tech
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Senators of the Undergraduate Association enjoyed a “R.I.P. Senate” cake after the Senate’s last meeting ever on Dec. 12. The body will be replaced by a UA Council made up of representatives from dormitories and FSILGs — a result of the UA’s largest restructuring effort in years.
Christopher A. Maynor—The Tech

2011 was a landmark year for the Undergraduate Association. Two successive administrations put forth plans to substantially restructure the organization, culminating in the dissolution of the UA Senate in December. A UA Council will take its place, comprised of representatives from dormitories, the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the Panhellenic Association (Panhel), the Living Group Council (LGC), and an off-campus representative. Unlike the Senate, constituencies will decide for themselves how to pick their representatives.

Talk of a major organizational overhaul first began in March. Then-UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 proposed a radical change to undergraduate governance as a means to unify the politically disparate IFC, Panhel, DormCon, UA, and LGC. Modi suggested a UA Council consisting of dormitory, IFC, Panhel, and LGC presidents (and an elected off-campus representative).

“There are two major purposes behind [my] bill: the first is unifying the student voice, and the second is a more efficient student government,” said Modi in April.

Under Modi’s plan, constituency leaders would be ex officio members of the UA council, letting student government present a unified front on policy issues. Council members would have votes proportional to the population of their constituencies — the representative for the IFC, therefore, would cast the most valuable vote in the Council, and the representative for off-campus students the least.

“This bill addresses the issue of unity by bringing all of the major ‘stakeholders’ in the room together; the Council will cover all MIT [undergraduates] in that sense. On the efficiency side, the outlined structure is more streamlined and ties more directly into the dorms, the IFC, Panhel, and so on,” said the president about his bill, “The Bill to Unify the Undergraduate Student Voice at MIT.”

Modi’s plan also called for the dissolution of DormCon, since the participation of dormitory presidents on the Council would make DormCon’s functions redundant. But that also meant that DormCon and the UA Senate would need to approve Modi’s proposed constitution before it could take effect.

That turned out to be a problem. Some UA members, including then-Senate Speaker Jonte M. Craighead ’13 and Vice President-elect Alec C. Lai ’13, said the process felt rushed, and that students had insufficient time to consider the proposal. DormCon failed to approve the new constitution in a vote on April 3, falling 7 points shy of the 75 percent of dormitory votes required to pass.

By mid-April, a succession of UA committees had agreed to modify Modi’s original plan in hopes of easing the transition from the Senate to the Council, and to address concerns over Greek representation. Current dormitory presidents would be allowed to appoint proxies to serve on the Council in their place. The IFC would be represented by four people, including the IFC president, and Panhel by two people, including its president. Panhel and the IFC would be able to decide for themselves how to elect their additional representatives.

Additionally, several new committees would be created within the UA — like the Dormitory Affairs and the Dormitory Funding committees — to handle dormitory-specific issues in the absence of DormCon. The UA would also pick an assistant vice president for REX, which traditionally also has been dealt with by DormCon.

DormCon’s second vote on the measure failed by an even wider margin than the first — dormitories voted 57 percent in favor of adopting the new constitution. According to Rachel E. Meyer ’10, chair of the UA Committee on Restructuring, dormitory presidents did not provide specific feedback against the proposed government, and DormCon did not offer suggestions for how to move forward with restructuring.

“While the proposed new structure for the UA did not pass DormCon or the UA Senate today, I want to make sure these discussions on UA restructuring don’t die,” wrote Janet Li ’12, vice-chair of the Senate, in an email to the UA Senate in April. “There are still a lot of problems with how the UA is structured. I think almost everyone agrees on this, and on the fact that it is beneficial to reevaluate it and try to come up with the best possible structure.”

Indeed, restructuring efforts did not die. Similar plans were revived in the fall by then-UA President Allan E. Miramonti ’13 — Miramonti also called for a UA Council with dormitory and FSILG representatives but did not require the dissolution of DormCon. A new Restructuring Committee suggested that restructuring should fix “behavioral” issues within the UA — “operational improvements and [changes to] the manner in which members within carry out their responsibilities individually and collectively,” according to the committee’s report. The recommendation came in a year where the UA saw the resignation of Vice President-elect Lai and the resignation of several senators and committee chairs.

By mid-November, Miramonti’s administration had formulated a new constitution. A 21-member council would be chaired by the UA president, who would only be able to vote in tiebreakers. Policy positions would be approved by consensus, and population votes would be used to determine funding allocations and constitutional amendments.

On Nov. 28, the Senate voted to dissolve itself and approve the new constitution. Importantly, the new dormitories and FSILGs that send representatives to the Council would be able to decide for themselves how to pick those representatives. DormCon would also not relinquish any of its authority to the new UA. Miramonti said in November that the UA would use IAP as a transition period to build the new government.

On Feb. 1, in the final week of IAP 2012, Miramonti announced his resignation, and his vice president TyShaun Wynter ’13 assumed the presidency immediately. Miramonti said he needed to “refocus” on academics and well-being.