Democracy at risk in the UA

Effective student leaders must earn their mandate

The deadline to declare candidacy for Undergraduate Association President passed last Friday with only one President/Vice President ticket having filed to run. This raises serious questions about the UA’s ability to attract talented leaders and to govern with authority.

The Tech believes that healthy democracy requires competition and choice. It therefore strongly encourages other tickets to join the race by the UA’s extended March 4th deadline.

Competition forces candidates to refine and defend their platforms. Choice engages voters in the democratic process. Together, these forces lend legitimacy to the elected leader. In their absence, a sole presidential hopeful may grow complacent in his candidacy. Fewer students will vote, as they assume the candidate’s election is inevitable. Ultimately, when voters only have one choice, there is no choice.

The lack of presidential candidates is only the latest in a series of recruitment problems for the UA. In recent years especially, many class council and UA Senate races have been uncontested. This pattern of unopposed elections is recurring and hinders the UA’s ability to represent its constituents.

The UA, as the undergraduate body’s blanket government, has a chance to bring together groups from all parts of campus who might otherwise never interact. When most students want something to happen, but no single living group community has enough say-so to get it done, the UA can help change MIT administrators’ minds. Big changes are always coming in financial aid, the MIT curriculum, dining, and more, and the UA has the opportunity to guide those changes in a student-friendly direction.

In light of this failure of the election process, the UA has to ask itself some tough questions. Why is there a lack of interest in student government? Why was there such a limited interest in the Presidential campaign? Are students simply uninterested in campus politics, or do outsiders feel they have no real chance to win against establishment candidates?

Answering these questions will not be easy. While the Association has taken the right first step by extending the deadline, recruitment is a long term problem that the incoming student executives will need to face. Failure to do so will lead to a decline in the power of the UA leadership to effectively bargain with administrators, and will harm the student body as a result.