Bennie and Delano Want to Improve UA Communication and Transparency

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Undergraduate Association president-elect Michael A. Bennie ’10 (left) and vice president-elect Margaret K. Delano ’10 sat down with The Tech to share their plans for the upcoming school year. They said they plan on increasing UA transparency and encouraging feedback from students.
David M. Templeton—The Tech

Many of the items on the agenda of Undergraduate Association president-elect Michael A. Bennie ‘10 and vice president-elect Margaret K. Delano focus on improving UA transparency and fostering communication between students and the administration. The Tech sat down with Bennie and Delano to discuss their plans for office.

TT: What is your agenda for the coming year?

MB: In terms of external communications, one of my biggest priorities is working with the website to make sure it’s a two-way street and that students can provide feedback. We’ve already started that. We want to enable students to comment on what is going on in the Senate… and provide avenues for them to give feedback to the UA through the website. We also want to provide more opportunity through Community Conversations.

MD: Internally, how I see things working is that Mike will have a good sense of what students want with the help of the Senate. It’ll be my responsibility to work with our committees to make sure that we are all in a position to make those changes happen. One of the things I want to do — even now — is to start talking to those on the committees and see if they are interested in being chairs of committees. I also want to find out where each committee is going, what each committee wanted to achieve this year, and what each committee wants to achieve [this upcoming year]. I also want to ask each committee what prevented them from moving forward and what good things they had to get those roadblocks out of the way so we can make concrete progress. I want to spend less time actually doing the work of the committees and spend more time really getting more students involved and allowing them to tackle all the issues they are interested in working on.

MB: In terms of the vision for the UA, some of the things I see coming up are the interpretation or public vetting of the Blue Ribbon [Dining Committee] report. Nothing is going to happen until 2010 but the report will be public before the end of this academic year. We need to make sure people are happy with that. My big goal is that the communications with the UA are sound.

MD: The big issue last year was that no one knew what was going on with the UA at all. Now, if you poke around in the right places, you’ll know what the UA is doing. But, we would like to not only establish a framework to figure out what’s going on but also to establish a framework for students to get involved.

TT: What’s “Community Conversations”?

MB: It’s a new program that brings administrators into social settings. For example, students could have dinner with Chancellor [Phillip L.] Clay, or invite Chris Colombo to a social event. It’s a way to bridge a gap that the UA traditionally bridges. In addition to bringing students and administrators together, we are bringing in the UA, putting our face out there more, and interacting with students more. After students have had a conversation with Chancellor Clay, they can come to the UA. It serves two purposes: getting them connected with the UA, but also bringing them up-to-date with campus issues.

TT: How do you plan on engaging the student body, which is often frustrated with or doesn’t understand the relevance of student government? In particular, how would you engage the 57 percent of students who did not vote?

MB: All of that comes down to different interaction points. For the 43 percent that did vote, it’s a lot easier to get them to come back [to us] through the website or some other means. For the 57 percent that didn’t vote, it’ll be through personal connection. That’s what we are hoping senators and committee chairs will bring to this.

MD: I think when something hits close to home like dining, people start realizing that if they don’t say anything and leave it up to everyone else, they’re kind of in trouble.

TT: One of the big things you tried to work on this year was transparency. What have been the biggest obstacles to increasing transparency, and how do you plan to overcome them?

MB: The biggest problem is finding people to work on transparency. A lot of people love writing bills about issues or doing work on Spring Weekend, but not a lot of people like working on documenting what they are doing.

MD: Everyone wants it [transparency] but no one wants to do it.

MB: That’s been one of my struggles as VP — trying to figure out what level I’m comfortable doing it myself and what level I can push people to get things done. You have to show how much you care about it to show them how important it is.

TT: How do you think the UA will be involved in plans to cut the Institute budget?

MB: We have 12 student reps on the budget task force committees. We’ve had a big push toward bringing people together and bringing back minutes to see what’s been going on. We are planning an event for those students to get together on Sunday to discuss what is happening on the committees and where we can make progress.

TT: What do you think of the job your predecessors did?

MB: I want to walk the line between [former UA presidents] Martin [F. Holmes ’08] and Noah [S. Jessop ’10]. Martin was kind of a hands-on, in-detail, micromanaging president. Noah was much more laid-back and hands-off. I want to walk between those because they both have their issues. I want to talk to more administrators than the UA did this year. I want to be involved in high-level projects. My focus this year is going to be working on the PR and History Committees and creating and documenting a communication system.

MD: I would like to touch base with a lot more of the committees. I also would like to have expectations at the beginning of the year, not just address things as they come up.

TT: If the UA Dining Committee proposal conflicts with the Blue Ribbon Dining Committee, what do you plan on doing going forward?

MB: If there is enough conflict and an independent report is written, we’ll need to go to Dean [for Student Life Costantino] Colombo and Phillip Clay and express why we think this is important and how we think the Blue Ribbon has failed. If the Blue Ribbon report isn’t what we want, we have to explain why that is. I don’t foresee that being an issue because the Blue Ribbon Committee has become a lot more open to student opinions.

TT: What would you like your administration to be remembered for?

MB: I want to leave tools behind so changes can continue to be made and so issues can continue to be tackled after we leave. I want to leave behind a healthy organization that is able to tackle whatever issue that comes up quickly and with good transparency.

MD: I would love the student body to be in a position where I can walk up to any person and talk to them about what’s going on in the UA right now. We can really feel like we are connecting to students and that they know what’s going on. It’s to get them thinking because that’s really the first step.