On student leadership

Which qualities should we look for in our undergraduate representatives?

MIT students often complain about the administration, a lack of student input, and inadequate representation. We often forget, however, that our decisions can directly impact these outcomes. The upcoming Undergraduate Association presidential elections remain the best way that we, the undergraduates, can voice our opinion.

To generate conversation on this topic, which we feel is extremely relevant to student life at MIT, we want to contribute our thoughts on what we believe will make good leaders. In evaluating UA leadership, we have found that the challenges the UA president and vice president (P/VP) will face and their individual qualities are the biggest indicators of their leadership success.

The UA P/VP must focus on big-picture issues and delegate tasks

Setting an agenda and creating a vision for their administration must be the main priorities of the UA P/VP. They themselves do not implement the majority of their initiatives. Rather, they facilitate and support other individuals and groups in following through on the more tangible tasks. The UA P/VP should also be prepared to admit when they are unable to resolve a problem themselves and be humble enough to reach out for help from others. For example, the UA P/VP may set the creation of a community garden as a goal, but it is up to the UA Sustainability committee to actually plan, organize, and implement the specifics of the initiative. The P/VP should be well-equipped to work with stakeholders to clear roadblocks, effectively communicate actionable goals, and enable the execution of these tasks.

Compromise is not a sign of weakness

We believe the ability and humility necessary for compromise is a reality and prerequisite for leadership. While advocacy is indispensable to the success of the UA P/VP ticket, there is a fine line between acting on passion and acting on impulse. The difference between these is defined by long-term vs. short-term thinking, respectively. While certain actions may lead to immediately beneficial results in the short-term, leaders must also be concerned with the ultimate consequences of their actions and what these will mean for their lasting impact on campus long after they are gone.

The UA P/VP should be representative of the MIT undergraduate population

An important question we should all ask ourselves when voting is: “If we could sum up all of MIT’s undergraduate culture in two people, who would they be?” While it is essentially impossible for any two individuals to claim to represent all of the undergrads, we should be confident that these people will do their very best to do so. Remember that this ticket will be considered “the undergraduate opinion” when meeting with President Reif, Chancellor Barnhart, and the various deans.

The UA must work together with other student leaders

An important feature of the UA is that it brings together various parties, such as the Dormitory Council, FSILG Councils, and Institute Committees. In many cases, these groups are accountable for dealing with matters of primary concern to their specific communities. It is often the UA’s responsibility to bring leaders of these groups together to address matters of common concern. For example, even though each council has its own specific issues related to residential life, all of them can come together through the UA to address these issues in an open and unified platform. This has proven to not only be effective in enabling the success of these groups, but has also better emphasized consistency in relaying student input to the administration.

The UA Presidency is a full-time job

A common theme across previous UA administrations has been an immense time commitment. The ticket must be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time working with administrators, student leaders, and stakeholders within MIT community. Be it at the UA Office or answering emails online, the UA P/VP must be attentive 24/7. Because the job calls for focus and dedication, candidates with other large non-academic commitments should be prepared and will be expected to reassess their priorities. One measure of effectiveness is how often they are available in the UA office, instead of having to be tracked down.

Poise, approachability, and respectability are important criteria in this selection

How an opinion is presented can make all the difference. If someone approaches you and demands your respect, would you give it to them? What about if someone shows you through their actions that they deserve it? If we want to be treated as adults by administrators, we must make the effort to demonstrate that we can behave as such. This attitude also ties into approachability; someone who understands and believes that effort goes a long way in building relationships is also likely to succeed in these relationships. If we were to walk into the UA office and express an opinion about a certain issue, we would want to feel empowered to speak to our representatives and not be dismissed.

We hope that you will keep the qualities mentioned above in your minds as you consider the different candidates. This article is expressly intended to spark constructive debate among students, so that we may decide for ourselves who we believe will best represent undergraduates. We want to clarify that highlighting certain qualities in this article does not mean that these qualities have not been demonstrated in the past. We encourage every undergrad to recognize the impact of his or her opinion and vote.

Haldun Anil is the President of the Interfraternity Council. Yasmin Inam is the President of the Panhellenic Association. Both are members of the Class of 2015.