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O/R panel makes recommendations

Report suggests changes for orientation, residence choice

In its final report released last Friday, the Advisory Group on Orientation and Residence 1998 detailed some suggestions for improving freshman orientation and housing selection, including avenues for more faculty/student interaction, a comprehensive guide to residences, and creation of a new Orientation Policy Committee.

The 12-member panel chaired by Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver was charged by President Charles M. Vest with advising the administration on new ways of introducing students to the campus and holding residence selection for the Class of 2002. During their discussions, members considered survey results, a November 5 forum on freshman housing, and proposals by the President's Council of the Interfraternity Council (IFC).

The biggest obstacle to making improvements, the panel found, is "a fundamentally different point of view between the faculty and the students with respect to what is broken in the present system of introducing freshmen to campus," the report said.

"Many faculty believe the current residence system obstructs the academic orientation of new students to the university and leads to a singular loyalty to the living group at the expense of a lack of substantive intellectual connection to the academy. On the other hand, students widely believe that faculty put little effort into building relationships with students, and furthermore fail to understand that living groups provide the support network essential to students, beginning in the fall of the freshman year."

Consequently, any meaningful change will require a sincere effort by both faculty and students to agree on goals and work together. Faculty and administration members must strive to create "substantive orientation programming" and gain some first-hand familiarity with the residence system, while students must show commitment to put new programs in place and attending orientation activities, the report said.

On the idea of housing all freshmen on campus, "we concluded that this was not in MIT's best interest for the fall of 1998," the group said. Such a move would require finding approximately 360 additional beds, resulting in additional dormitory crowding and displacement of about 200 graduate students. Nevertheless, "the Institute should anticipate the possibility of a temporary jump in the demand for on-campus housing next fall."

The first step, the advisory group recommended, should be the appointment of an Orientation '98 Policy Committee composed of faculty, staff and students who would immediately begin planning orientation for next fall. Residence/orientation or R/O should be renamed simply Orientation, reflecting a greater emphasis on the orientation component, the report added.

Other proposals for providing a better introduction to MIT for incoming students included:

  • Hold the most important orientation activities before rush.
  • Expand on existing programs such as Core Blitz, Meet the Profs and lab tours and add new events such as workshops on issues such as diversity, alcohol awareness and harassment; a faculty panel; a presentation on counseling and support services; and events in multiple small-group settings such as Project MOYA, advising and temporary-residence assignment groups.
  • Create more student/faculty interaction by having each freshman speak with faculty members during the summer; encouraging faculty-run experimental academic programs within living groups; starting a year-long program of faculty dinners; and holding panel discussions, early freshman-advisor meetings, and activities in temporary residences.
  • ������������������Have more alumni/ae activities such as summer receptions in home towns of alumni/ae and students, or events with a panel of distinguished alumni/ae to discuss their experiences with freshmen.
  • Change the academic "default setting" from an emphasis on early failure to early rewards. Offer better core subject advice, including sample classes.
  • Create an Advising Center to centralize information and expertise to provide advisors and students with answers to the most commonly asked questions.
  • Expand opportunities for freshmen to come early to campus with programs such as the existing Interphase, Freshman Leadership Program, etc.

In detailing ways to improve the residence selection process, the advisory group relied on principles that included early, objective and accessible residence information, and equitable and diverse housing choices for all students. Their suggestions included restricting unsolicited summer mailings and telephone calls to freshmen, and preparing a comprehensive guide to residences that incorporates objective information on demographics, academic performance, extracurricular activities and so forth.

This living-group guide -- described by the IFC Presidents' Council and endorsed by the advisory group -- would have four components:

  • A fact sheet including house GPA, majors represented, cost per year, meals provided, length of pledge period, police incidents within the last three years (one-line summaries), names of faculty advisors and graduate resident tutors, and awards received.
  • An objective entry written by Residence and Campus Activities staff covering participation in varsity/intramural athletics, campus organization officers, extracurricular activities represented, etc.
  • A subjective entry submitted by recruitment chairs of all fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs).
  • FSILG members' parent contact information.

The report recommended other means of providing incoming students with information, such as putting residence information on the web (and giving freshmen Athena accounts as soon as possible), providing visitation opportunities (perhaps overnight) to living groups during the spring before freshmen arrive, and holding a "residence midway" similar to the Activities Midway. Members also suggested lengthening the time allotted for residence selection and having greater participation by dorms in rush activities.

Panel members endorsed the concept of a residence selection workshop proposed by the IFC Committee on R/O Proposals. The workshop, held before the start of residence selection each fall, would aim to explain the residence selection system (the schedule, bid process, and key questions to ask members of a living group), review residence selection rules and resources for taking questions or complaints, and inform freshmen of the options available to them after residence selection if they are unhappy with their choice.

Other suggestions included:

  • Periodic reviews of "Institute-approved housing" status for all living groups, including dorms.
  • A messaging system so parents can maintain contact with sons or daughters during orientation (e.g., voice mail, pagers or e-mail).
  • A combination and expansion of the functions of R/O Central and Rush Central.
  • More single-sex housing opportunities for women.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 10, 1997.

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