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Faculty addresses freshman housing

A motion calling for all freshmen to live on campus sparked an introspective discussion of the MIT culture and the relationship between faculty and students at a faculty meeting attended by about 100 faculty, students, staff and administrators last Wednesday.

The meeting began with President Vest reviewing the actions that have been taken following the alcohol-related death on September 29 of freshman Scott Krueger.

The motion, made by Professor Stephen L. Chorover of brain and cognitive sciences, was succinct: "It is the sense of the faculty that commencing with the academic year 1998, all freshmen should live on campus." Before introducing his motion, he said, "It's time for the faculty to take the responsibility for the orientation of students into this community." The motion will be put to a vote at the November 19 meeting.

A flier was distributed to attendees at the meeting in Rm 10-250 that called for reforms in the rush system but urged maintaining the fraternities, sororities and other independent living groups. "Students in the houses can draw on a caring group of close friends for both academic and social support throughout their time at the Institute," said the flier, prepared by members and alumni/ae of seven ILGs and supported by representatives of 20 others.

Differing views were expressed on whether it was desirable to house all first-year students on campus, but virtually all speakers said the faculty needs to take more responsibility for the larger educational environment and for introducing students to MIT.

Kip Hodges, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences and dean for undergraduate curriculum, noted that the relationship between faculty and students tends to begin and end at the classroom door, and he called for greater faculty leadership in articulating what the broader educational environment should be. He noted that there are many opinions on housing, but warned that "it's not purely a bricks-and-mortar problem��������������������������� it's an environmental problem."

Professor Lotte Bailyn of the Sloan School, chair of the faculty, noted the complexity of the issues surrounding housing and campus environment and urged that the faculty recommendations to the administration be based on an exploration of a wide range of alternatives. Commenting on the need for continuing faculty discussion of these matters, she also urged her colleagues to send their ideas and suggestions to the faculty officers at <>.

Literature Professor John Hildebidle urged his colleagues to discuss the issues with their students as well as each other. "They have an awful lot of smart things to say," he said. "They are the smartest people in the world."

Professor Paul Gray of electrical engineering and computer science, MIT president from 1980-90 and chair of the Corporation until last July, agreed that "it would be enormously constructive if faculty would take responsibility for orienting our youngest colleagues to MIT." He characterized the current system as a "lousy way to introduce 1,000 people to the complexity of MIT," but commented that it isn't clear that having all freshmen live on campus was the right solution. Professor Gray (SB '54) lived on campus for a year before joining Phi Sigma Kappa.

Professor Lawrence Bacow of urban studies and planning, chair of the faculty from 1995-97, agreed that faculty should take the lead on reform and think about ways to create a better process. "If our system did not exist today, we would not invent it," he said.

S. Jay Keyser, professor of linguistics and special assistant to the provost, noted that the living groups function as havens for students and cautioned against radical change. "It's where you go for solace when you find out you're not the smartest student," said Keyser, who was a housemaster at Senior House for eight years.

Another former housemaster, Associate Professor Judith Kildow of ocean engineering, supported housing freshmen on campus, at least for the first semester. She said that many students were "socially naive and socially inexperienced" and needed "guidance, role models, leadership and nurturing."

Associate Professor of History Elizabeth Wood favored housing that mixes students at all levels because all-freshman housing can be "a neurotic environment--they're all scared."

Student leaders had the last word in last Wednesday's discussion, which will be continued at the next faculty meeting.

Iddo Gilon, president of the Interfraternity Council, suggested that faculty "get to know the residential system" before they change it. "Talk to the students," he said. "Visit where they live."

Ashesh Shah, president of the Dormitory Council, hoped that new policies wouldn't diminish the special character of the MIT experience. "When you come out of MIT," he said, "you walk tall. You're sure you can take on anything."

In other business, faculty members approved several editorial changes to "Rules and Regulations of the Faculty" and adopted a resolution on the death of Professor Martin Diskin of anthropology, who died on August 3. A discussion of the new Student Services Center was postponed until the November meeting.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 1997.

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