Nearly 50 faculty members and 10 staff members took part last Friday in a special two-hour meeting to discuss changes in MIT's culture, policies and procedures as part of the MIT community dialogue following the alcohol-related death of freshman Scott Krueger.
The meeting was convened by Professor Lotte Bailyn, chair of the faculty, and Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams to elicit faculty ideas and opinions on the issues.
Following initial remarks by Professor Bailyn, the chair of the faculty, and President Vest, Dean Williams called on faculty "as forcefully as I know how, to assert a much stronger faculty role in MIT undergraduate education."
She said, "Any building or plan to house freshmen on campus is only a means to an end. The end has to be the creation of a campus that is truly an educational community. The first year especially should be a time when students make the transition from a home environment to a learning environment.
"We have a science core; we need along with it a community core, a set of programs, intentional and well-staffed, that helps our students understand what it means to live and work and learn in a social setting."
Dean Williams concluded, "We have to at the least be able to promise on-campus living for any entering student who wants itï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The quality of students is at the heart of our excellence.
"It is imperative that we in the Dean's Office have three things from you [faculty]: 1) articulation of principles that should govern student life; 2) support for the funds and people to provide programs and presence that will realize those principles; and 3) ongoing mechanisms of governance that will provide continued support, assessment and improvement."
Dr. Vest, referring to statements by the Interfraternity Council and the Dormitory Council to suspend the use of alcohol for a period, commented, "I'm incredibly proud of the students. Lots of strong leadership is emerging."
Professor Bailyn said this was the beginning of a process of debate to move toward a plan of action. She urged faculty to participate in Family Weekend on Saturday morning, Oct. 18.
(Comments from the meeting are paraphrased below and organized by topic. Each paragraph represents a different speaker.)
Beginning the general discussion, a faculty member said the sense of community among students underlies and is connected to the sense of community among faculty.
Drinking and substance abuse are deep in the culture, and difficult to change.
We have to better understand binge drinking. Students say, "We have to do this to blow off steam so we can go back to studying Monday."
A professor who is an MIT alumnus said his fraternity experience, including the freshman year, was one of the most rewarding and bonding experiences of his life. We must find a mechanism by which all students understand where stupid drinking stops and fatal drinking starts.
A former housemaster said there was no administrative backup on very serious disciplinary problems.
Dartmouth undertook a concerted effort on binge drinking which had an impact for a few years, but now binge drinking among freshmen is back up.
None of our peer institutions has such a high percentage as MIT of freshman living off-campus.
Incoming freshmen could express interest in fraternities, sororities or independent living groups (FSILGs), but have MIT subsidize the fraternities until they were ready to pledge, in the second semester of freshman year or sophomore year. Intermediate steps are important to consider. We shouldn't wait until the dormitory is built.
The design of housing is important. Small coherent groups and human scale make Random House attractive even though it is dingy.
We need a way to break down the isolation of undergraduate living groups and graduate research groups, and make faculty more comfortable participating in student life.
MIT needs more social spaces, such as the faculty lunchroom at Walker Memorial. Perhaps we should roof over the main parking lot and make it a space for socializing.
There isn't easy, friendly communication with undergraduates by the Campus Police and Medical Department.
There is a need for administration as well as faculty to engage with students.
Housemasters make a huge commitment to students but that is not highly valued.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 8, 1997.