Three UA tickets face off in debate on student issues

Candidates answer questions about transparency, Title IX issues, and the UA Council

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The three tickets face off in the Undergraduate Association presidential debate sponsored by The Tech and UA on Wednesday evening in the Student Center. Voting will begin on Monday.
Tami Forrester—The Tech

This year’s Undergraduate Association (UA) President/Vice President debate, co-hosted by The Tech and the UA Wednesday evening, featured three tickets. Each pair of candidates discussed the merits of their platform and addressed campus-wide issues, from student government transparency to dealing with student concerns over Title IX.

The President/Vice President tickets were Andrew M. Acker ’15 and Grace E. O’Malley ’15, Shruthi Sharma ’15 and Billy Ndengeyingoma ’15, and Jeffrey M. Sperling ’15 and Nathan H. Varady ’16. The debate took place on the first floor of W20, outside LaVerde’s Market from 7:30-9:30 p.m. More than 40 people were initially present and, by the end of the night, approximately 20 students remained in the audience. The debate itself, moderated by Austin J. Hess ’15, editor-in-chief of The Tech, included sections focusing on the tickets’ platforms, discussion-based questions, and, finally, audience questions.

Each ticket focused on certain parts of their platform throughout the debate. Sharma/Ndengeyingoma repeatedly brought up online education and changing the MIT campus. Sperling/Varady frequently described their experience in the UA, how they plan to change the UA Council, and ways to improve the MIT undergraduate education. Sperling listed his time on five committees as part of his qualifications. Acker/O’Malley, who portrayed themselves as UA outsiders, looked to improve social initiatives like SpringFest and invigorate the UA. All three tickets stressed the need for better communication between the UA and the student body, as well as between student leaders and the administration.

Communication and transparency

The most frequently discussed topic of the night, communication and transparency between the UA, students, and administration, permeated the conversations about CPW 1 a.m. rule and current Boston-side fraternity assembly limits.

“Over the past year there simply has been a lack of communication between the administrators and students… we felt that the current leadership did not particularly involve all the students,” said Acker. Acker and O’Malley said they would work on introducing push notifications to the MIT mobile app to update students in real time on issues being debated by the UA. Acker also proposed the idea of UA office hours and meeting with each MIT administrator on a bi-weekly basis.

Varady, commenting that every MIT undergraduate has their own “valuable” time, hopes to implement a weekly blog called the “UA and You” to inform the student body of the happenings of the UA. Emphasizing the need for “real-time” updates, Varady affirmed the importance of the current UA newsletter but said he hopes for faster updates to keep students involved in decisions.

Sharma broke down her solution to the transparency issue into three parts: self-governance, such as maintaining relationships with other student leaders; having working groups for large issues; and engaging students, possibly involving undergraduates in the UA using techniques adapted from the Graduate Student Council.

On Title IX

As the majority of the tickets addressed Title IX in their platforms as a primary concern for students, one of the first questions asked was how the candidates planned to deal with Title IX policies relevant to the undergraduate body.

O’Malley, who drew upon her experience as a Maseeh Hall Medlink and meeting with the Title IX investigator, Sarah Rankin, felt that the administration already had a strong plan for Title IX going forward. “The UA’s role is to support this [administration’s] plan of action and to implement educational campaigns on this issue,” said O’Malley.

Varady countered by stating that education on Title IX was being adequately addressed by the Title IX working group and said he instead wants to push the issue forward by establishing support groups exclusively made up of students to help one another. “If I were to be sexually assaulted and told that to Grace, she now has an obligation to tell Sarah Rankin, the Title IX investigator.” Establishing the support groups, Varady claimed, will quell any fears that students have over reporting Title IX incidents, by allowing students to open up to other students, instead of the investigator.

“There are a few gray areas which we should start clearing up. There are several presentations given out about Title IX, and it’s about time to consolidate one thorough presentation… to show what is gray, what is black, and what is white here,” said Sharma. Ndengeyingoma continued by stating that the UA can work with the IFC and other student groups to provide for standard Title IX education.

On improving the UA Council

As one of the final questions posed in the structured part of the debate, Hess asked “Do you all perceive that the [UA] Council is doing a good job right now?”

Sperling and Varady said that collaboration within the Council has improved, but the body can have better efficiency and responsiveness. Varady still maintained that the Council “was extremely ineffective.” They said that their leadership experience would help them avoid the problems they perceived to be present in previous administrations.

Sharma felt that the lack of a Presidential Summit this past year caused a breakdown of collaboration in the Council. “This is what we want to start instituting now,” said Sharma.

O’Malley felt that operational inefficiencies of the UA Council were responsible for the perceived lack of progress. Acker and O’Malley portrayed their leadership in other capacities around campus as important to their efforts to change Council operations.

Closing arguments

In closing arguments, candidates from each ticket reiterated their backgrounds. To snaps of approval from the remaining audience, Sharma/Ndengeyingoma stated, “We have working relationships with administrators already, and that will be our greatest leverage going forward.” Sharma continued by repeating the three main points of her campaign: transparency and communication, having better integration of MIT academics with online education, and making sure students are involved with redesigning “campus for the 21st century.”

Sperling/Varady, in their closing statement, maintained the need for strong, ambitious leaders as vanguards of the UA. The two continued to emphasize their broad set of experiences within the UA, mentioning Nathan’s work on a Title IX working group, and repeating Sperling’s committee experience. “It’s time for leaders who care and who we trust”, said Sperling.

O’Malley, giving the closing statement for her ticket, said, “What’s more inspiring than two people who have no UA experience taking a stand and saying, ‘Let’s get elected president and vice president and take on these pertinent issues.’” She emphasized the ticket’s positions on student life issues, such as improving the Daytime shuttle and providing printers in Stata. O’Malley finished the night off by stating, “It’s a fresh administration we have… now it’s time for some fresh faces in the UA.”

Disclosure: Tushar V. Kamath ’16 is a member of the Everett Moore Baker Memorial Foundation Committee, a UA Institute Committee.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Just FYI, the relevant departments at MIT have been trying to institute support groups for those who have been sexually assaulted and harassed for years. For a variety of reasons (which largely include student interest and availability), these have not been viable programs.

Perhaps Varaday has done some research on how to execute support groups better than the people who have years of experience in the field. IMO it is more likely that he is uninformed, uninterested and ultimately unaffected by sexual assault- as his cavalier and callous hypothetical during the debate suggests.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Just so you are aware, the Title IX Coordinator is a new position at MIT this year. Clearly the administration felt that the issue has not been adequately addressed by the previous departments who had worked on the issues of sexual assault and harassment. I agree that past attempts to implement similar programs have fallen short and that there are some difficult legal requirements that need to be met. However, these past failures shouldn't mean that students try to improve things at MIT. With the increased focus on Title IX at MIT, there could be increased interest to the point where students would make themselves available to be a part of these programs. There are a number of other Universities that currently have successful student-run programs that serve as support mechanisms for Title IX issues.

Additionally, your personal attack on Varady is unfounded. Varady is currently on the Title IX Working Committee and has worked diligently with Sarah Rankin (Title IX Coordinator) to improve campus-wide resources and education. If you had taken the time to look into the candidates with some depth you would see that Varady has the most experience with Title IX issues, and is likely one of the most informed students at MIT on these issues.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Seconding #2 on both points.

The administration openly admits that they are still in the research phase and don't want to implement a plan without fully understanding the problem. There's already a lot of confusion and mistrust around discussing assault with various groups within the administration, so they're actually trying to make sure they don't accidentally make things worse.

I'm not sure how anyone thinks that students shouldn't be involved in Title IX education policy, because they are ultimately affected by it and can provide valuable feedback about what policies will be useful. Having admins work on things that affect students without consulting them clearly doesn't work. Bringing student opinion to administrators about policies like this is literally what the UA is supposed to do.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

The idea that Varady is "one of the most informed students at MIT on these issues" is laughable. He's been on the Title IX Working Group for a couple months (because that's how long it's been around), so big whoop!

SO MANY OTHER STUDENTS have worked on these issues for YEARS. Varady's just jumping on the bandwagon now that he's running for UAVP.

Also on that ticket, Jeffrey wants to mention his "5 committees", why doesn't he mention that he wasn't really on the Presidential Search Committee and that he got kicked off two others?

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

brendan/mary 2014!

or...andrew/grace 2014!

...what's the difference?

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

There's a big difference between addressing Title IX at MIT and addressing sexual assault at MIT. Students conflate them because Anne McCants publicly argued that BC's murals were addressable through Title IX.

Title IX defines the minimum action a university must take in response to sexual misconduct to maintain their federal funding. The threshold for Title IX to take effect in a sexual misconduct case is very high: "if the conduct is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a students ability to participate in or benefit from the schools program."

Because of this, the fact that students are being asked about "Title IX" is somewhat crazy. The fact that there's a "Title IX Working Group" is more crazy. The obligations mandated by Title IX are minimal and very well defined in a 19 page "Dear Colleague" letter from April 2011:

MIT meets it's Title IX obligations by publishing occasionally pointing you to and following the policy they list there. There is nothing more to Title IX.

Reframe the questions to be about sexual misconduct. Title IX is not meant to catch all types of sexual misconduct - that was Anne McCants mistake and uninformed students are just running with it (e.g: Cory Hernandez Rape Culture OpEd). Read the 19 page Dear Colleague letter if you don't believe me, then try to argue (with citations) why MIT is mandated to stop isawyou, Voodoo, and BC murals because of Title IX.

If MIT wants to address less severe types of sexual misconduct, it needs to do so through its own policy. This policy will superset Title IX, but it's incorrect to say it is Title IX. Throwing the term "Title IX" around just confuses everyone more than they need to be confused.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

What is really laughable is your callous attacks on the Sperling/Varady ticket, while completely disregarding any of the flaws the other candidates may have. If you are going to be critical of candidates you should do so in a way that works towards positive discourse regarding the UA and elections, and not in a way that just attacks MIT students who have stepped up to try to help make MIT a better place.

If you think that Varady is the candidate that is only doing things for the title/having the position, you should really take a closer look at the other tickets:

Shruti is premed and wants to be a Rhodes Scholar. These are great ambitions and should be applauded, but greatly bring into question the reasons that she is running, and in addition the amount of time she would be able to devote to the position. I've heard from a number of students that at a council meeting Sid was asked to put more time into the UA and me more involved. He responded that he needed to maintain a 5.0, get a job, focus on classes, and still have a social life so his UA commitment couldn't increase. Having Shruti as UA President would be this exact situation again. Is her platform of giving the Administration whatever they want in the best interest of the MIT students? or is it the best way for her to get a recommendation letter for her applications?

Cory Hernandez almost 10 years ago

6: If you actually read our piece, you would see that we did talk about sexual assault and rape culture in general, that we only addressed Title IX where relevant, and that we do talk about MIT's policies (see: COD rules, MIT Mind Hand Book, etc.). We don't say isawyou is a violation of Title IX, we say it furthers rape culture. Just like all of our examples--they further rape culture. Whether or not all of these things violate Title IX or MIT policies wasn't what we were arguing, so you clearly missed the point and just read what you wanted to read.

Maybe you should re-read the article before you, a clearly uninformed student (or other MIT community member), keep saying inaccurate things.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Cory - Sorry about that.

I think if you can make a concrete argument for one, you'll be able to make a concrete argument for the others. I don't think you can make an argument for murals though - your article just says that they were Title IX violations.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

It looks like #4 is very biased, not to mention completely wrong in his/her claims.

Since I know both Jeff and Nathan personally, I would like to address and correct some of these malevolent allegations.

I was sitting in the audience in the debate, and someone asked the question about Jeffrey's presidential search experience. A quick Google search showed that Jeffrey Sperling was without a doubt on the student task force for the presidential search (proof here: He was in fact the only student in the Class of 2015 to be invited onto the committee. This link was the showed to the person asking the question, to which the asker mutely said "Oh, okay" and the people around him laughed.

Furthermore, Jeff has never been "kicked off" any of his committees. I don't know who started this rumor in the last two days, but it's actually very mean and spiteful to a candidate who many people think is the best person out there to advocate for students in front of administrators. He has served on the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, and currently serves on the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid -- two high-profile oversight committees that few undergraduates are invited to participate on -- and he has represented undergraduates well for the entire length of his term.

I'm lucky to have asked Jeff for a few questions of advice during my applications for Institute Committees a while back. I am grateful to call him an acquaintance and mentor. I really hope he does win the election, because he and Nathan are the most devoted and passionate people I've seen.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Okay, first of all, anyone can apply for any Institute committee. Not many people do, though, so being on one is only slightly impressive.

However, the thing that is probably irritating me the most is that neither of them give credit where credit is due. Yes, Nathan has done a lot of work with Title IX, but to say that he's done the most in the UA - even the most of the candidates - is a lie. Anyone who went to the council meeting 3 weeks ago would tell you that's a lie, which is interesting, because Sperling was there and seems to have no problem saying it.

However, I will say that both Jeff/Nathan and Shruti/Billy have a much better understanding of what it actually means to be UAP/VP than either Sid or Devin did in the first place. I'm not sure why people are talking about it being time for new faces in the UA when the current P and VP were never on any committee of any kind to begin with.

Finally, I'd just like to mention that there is already a committee in the UA working on shuttles. It's not instantaneous because there's funding and sustainability issues to work out, but if your issues can be resolved at the committee level, you don't need to be UAP/VP to solve them. If you want to work on a specific thing, join a UA committee that works on that.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

I also find it really interesting how the Jeff/Nathan and Andrew/Grace tickets claim in full grandeur how they're going to "change the UA", or "bring fresh new faces", or "improve X,Y, and Z", yet there never seems to be a concrete plan of action. It's funny how these people claim they will make these changes despite making statements that are either clearly misinformed, inaccurate, or incomplete. Some of the statements, especially by the Andrew/Grace ticket, clearly didn't even realize the limitations and capabilities of the UA- much less what the UA actually exists for.

At the end of the day, I'd much rather take a candidate who's not as ambitious as these people claim themselves to be but who actually has his/her head screwed on tight and is making feasible claims they can hope to follow through on. That, and not revealing confidential information (e.g. the DSL Visiting Committee reports) in front of random people passing by.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Are the rumors true that Jeffery got kicked off two committees and that he got caught cheating in J-lab? I want him to comment on these issues before the elections. If he is elected, as a student leader and someone who interacts with council and the administration, I refuse to trust Jeff until these issues are addressed. I also struggle to trust anyone who was punished for cheating in a class like J-lab.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

I asked one of my friends who is sorta involved with the UA. She said that Sperling was more like, rejected from institute committees because people thought that he wasn't doing a good job. If you look at his UA experience, there's a lot two years ago and very little this year--draw your own conclusions about that.

The J-lab thing is totally true (according to multiple sources) though.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

To 13: note how former comment "14" has been deleted. You wanted a proof: there it is. The tech would have NOT removed a comment saying that "this rumor is true" , if the rumor was true.

Besides, if they were true Sperling wouldn't have even been able to present a ticket.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

To 15: That is false. I know it is true, and they deleted the comment defensively in case it wasn't. And strangely enough, he is able to run anyway. I think this is because the physics faculty were very nice in how they handled it, and didn't report him to the COD or anything.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Put away rumors and all your personal vendeta and THINK: Which one of the three tickets, if elected, can and will in fact contribute the most. Don't do what dirty politicians do in Washington and state elections all the time: Negative campaigning, rumor mongering and mud slinging. Can we rise above this and consider QUALIFICATIONS ?? May the best ticket win ! Vote !

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

17, stop being childish, people are raising reasonable concerns here. If the rumors about Sperling cheating on J-Lab are true indeed, electing him would be a shame for all the undergrad community.

I was hoping the Tech would at least report something on this before the end of the elections, with statements from both Sperling and the Physics department. Please be useful to MIT and write something