In a weak field, Sharma and Ndengeyingoma best option
Specificity, realistic goals lacking from all tickets
CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: In a previous version of this editorial, Shruti Sharma’s first name was spelled incorrectly on one mention. Additionally, while the original article was not in error on this issue, the ban on electronic communication with undergraduates applied to the candidacy of Jeffrey M. Sperling ’15 and Nathan H. Varady ’16 by the UA Elections Commission was relaxed early Thursday to extend only to email communication. Additionally, the Commission said that new information obtained from MIT IS&T led it to believe that the campaign did not in fact violate the MITnet rules of use as previously stated.
By the end of the week, MIT undergraduates will choose Andrew M. Acker ’15 and Grace E. O’Malley ’15, Shruti Sharma ’15 and Billy Ndengeyingoma ’15, or Jeffrey M. Sperling ’15 and Nathan H. Varady ’16 to be the next Undergraduate Association president and vice president. It is encouraging to see three tickets so eager to tackle the challenges facing undergraduates. But the leaders of the UA need not only detailed, specific proposals, but also the experience and tact to realize their visions.
Unfortunately, The Tech does not believe that any one of the three tickets fully satisfies these criteria.
The candidates’ platforms tend to resemble wish lists rather than detailed policy proposals. Furthermore, vague appeals for increased “transparency” and “communication” were common to all three candidacies in the P/VP debate held by The Tech and the UA on Wednesday, March 12. Nevertheless, we believe that Shruti Sharma and Billy Ndengeyingoma are the best option to lead the UA.
Sharma and Ndengeyingoma have demonstrated thorough institutional knowledge and an encouraging ability to foster relationships with administrators. When pressed to defend the feasibility of students influencing MIT’s policy on online education, Sharma specifically referenced a plan for working with Sanjay E. Sarma, MIT’s first director of online learning. And Ndengeyingoma is particularly adept at articulating the ticket’s plans, as well as providing details of implementation when necessary.
Our optimism is curbed by the fact that several of the ticket’s specific ideas have already been tried, only to be proven ineffective. UA drop-in hours and a monthly newsletter are well-intentioned but simply haven’t worked.
Additionally, while many of their individual platform goals are more feasible than their opponents’, their list of objectives is far too long to be implemented in one term. Still, we believe Sharma and Ndengeyingoma can prioritize appropriately, and we therefore recommend them as the first choice for UA P/VP.
We recommend ranking Andrew Acker and Grace O’Malley second. This ticket portrayed themselves as “UA outsiders” and “fresh faces” and claimed that the ingenuity of their ideas would outweigh their lack of experience. But even slight scrutiny of their platform shows that this isn’t the case.
Student/faculty dinner enhancements, academic mentoring programs by graduates for undergraduates, online resource education for incoming freshmen, and social initiatives are all commendable goals. But they are not compelling enough to overcome a lack of critical institutional knowledge and experience.
Acker and O’Malley were unable to provide specifics on a number of UA and MIT policies during the debate and frequently seemed left out of conversations on topics the UA president would almost certainly have to address. While their leadership skills would be valuable in the UA, the presidency requires a great deal of familiarity with the MIT administration’s processes and workings, which would be difficult to learn, let alone leverage, within a single term.
We believe the Sperling/Varady ticket should be ranked third. We worry that by overestimating the power of the UA, they fail to realize that many of their goals are unrealistic, and they may instead push forward in ways that will damage the UA’s long-term credibility.
For example, their platform indicates that they want to make large changes to the curriculum to increase flexible major options, open the meetings of the Academic Council to undergraduates (while failing to note that even faculty have only one representative on the Council), publicize results of the generally confidential MIT Corporation Visiting Committees, and make significant operational changes to the Student Center.
Each of these projects would be difficult to complete even if the P/VP spent their entire term on nothing else, but Sperling and Varady seem to think that their experience will allow them to achieve their goals through sheer force of will alone.
Most importantly, we doubt that the pair will have the tact and sensitivity necessary to manage complex, confidential, and sensitive situations as P/VP. Sperling repeatedly brought up his experience on other committees as evidence that he was qualified for the job, although Sharma questioned his performance and attendance at such meetings.
To clarify, The Tech spoke to former UA Chief of Staff Ravi M. Charan ’14, who was in charge of selecting students for committees from Fall 2012 to Spring 2013. Charan said of Sperling, “Jeff often missed and rarely paid attention in meetings of the nominations committee (the UA committee that nominates students to faculty-run Institute Committees). Additionally, he did not conduct as many student interviews as other committee members. There was also negative feedback from fellow student committee members about his performance as a member of an Institute Committee, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program.”
When asked to comment, Sperling maintained that he “attended every nominations committee meeting except for those that conflicted with varsity tennis,” and that he “attended all his scheduled interview times.” Regarding the alleged negative feedback from other committee members, Sperling claimed that he was urged to “scale back [his] advocacy on smaller issues so the faculty would be more receptive to [their] suggestions on larger topics.”
Additionally, on Monday, the first day of voting, the pair sent emails to the MIT addresses of many undergraduates, in a violation of both UA election rules and MITnet rules of use, according to an email to undergraduates from UA Election Commission Chair Leonid Grinberg ’14.
This kind of careless behavior would not only impede their work but also potentially threaten the future credibility of the UA.
We cannot forget that all six of these candidates have shown a sincere desire to improve the lives of undergraduates, and we applaud them for doing so. But desire alone doesn’t yield results, and hopefully future candidates will put forward more specific and realistic proposals. Until then, we hope that this year’s field — despite its inadequacies — will still produce an effective administration.