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Student groups take issue with residence system proposal

The presidents of the five major student groups joined the debate on how the MIT community should reinvent itself last week with a detailed "Unified Student Response" to the preliminary residence system proposal announced by the Residence System Steering Committee (RSSC).

The response represents the collective thinking and consensus of the Interfraternity Council, Dormitory Council, Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council and Association of Student Activities. It is the first time in the shared history of the five student organizations that their presidents have come together to speak with one voice.

The Steering Committee's plan was offered on April 27 as a framework for discussions leading to a final proposal to be submitted in September.

Characterizing their communiqu� as a proposal, the student groups challenged, in part, three major Steering Committee suggestions and came up with these comments and alternate recommendations:

  • A freshman dormitory -- While they agree that putting freshman into one dormitory would be "a valid experiment," they objected to achieving that particular housing mix by tampering with the present arrangements at Ashdown House (now populated only by graduate students) and MacGregor House (undergraduates). The mix, they say, already fosters a spirit of community and offers "unique living options for their respective students."
  • Postponing Rush -- Rushing by fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs) should continue to take place at the beginning of the school year, not during IAP or the beginning of the spring semester, as the Steering Committee suggested. Postponing rush would not allow the FSILGs to compete with the residence halls on a level field.
  • Undergraduate student advisors -- Undergraduate student advisors, as proposed by the Steering Committee, could play a useful role. But issues of liability and peer-to-peer relationships need to be carefully defined and considered.

In supporting the idea of a freshman housing facility, the five groups suggested that instead of moving freshmen into Ashdown and shuffling its graduate students to MacGregor, MIT should consider turning soon-to-be-refurbished Baker House into freshman housing. "Its community spaces are ample, it has a dining hall, and it is close to central campus," the students said. "A second option would be the new residence hall being constructed on Vassar Street. A third and more radical possibility would be to reconsider the location of the new residence hall. A long-considered development site is the area behind Kresge Auditorium. "

If FSILGs continue to rush new members at the beginning of the school year, their activities can be tied in with dormitory choice. When off-campus FSILG housing becomes off-limits to freshman in 2001, "nonresidential FSILG member classes [would be able to] staple together in the dormitory lottery," the students said. Expanded stapling, the students noted, would "especially promote FSILG interaction in residence halls" and "would create strong FSILG-dormitory interaction. FSILGs would have a positive incentive to socialize and assist in programming in the residence halls."

Aware that the on-campus mandate will create FSILG vacancies, the RSSC had suggested that these vacancies be offered to graduate students. The students, however, don't want to see FSILGs and graduate housing linked. "The lessor/lessee relationship between houses and graduate students could prove to be problematic," they said.

Although the student groups support the idea of undergraduate resident advisors as proposed by the RSSC, they said "the RAs... should be friends and not authority figures. They should not be held liable for disciplinary infractions of their freshmen, nor should they be required to testify against their advisees in such a situation."

The unified response was issued under the signatures of presidents Michael Trupiano, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science (Interfraternity Council); Jennifer Frank, a junior in biology (Dormitory Council); Matthew McGann, a junior in mathematics (Undergraduate Association); Luis Ortiz, a graduate student in materials science and engineering (Graduate Student Council); and Jocelyn Wiese, a junior in materials science and engineering (Association of Student Activities).

Chair of the Steering Committee is Executive Vice President William J. Hecht (SB 1961). Members include four students, an associate dean, three members of the faculty and two alumni/ae. Process manager for the committee is Kirk D. Kolenbrander, an associate dean in ODSUE.

"The committee is delighted with the quality and care exercised by the community in its responses to the framework," said Mr. Hecht. "We expect to meet with several groups over the summer and continue our deliberations. The feedback is essential as we proceed to finalize the recommendations. We have heard much that we can integrate into our recommendations. As I stated at the first public presentation, we are likely to keep some parts of our report unchanged; others will change markedly. The summer's work is to determine which recommendations are which."

In early September, the RSSC will present to the MIT community a final draft of its recommendations. The committee will receive feedback from the community throughout September and will then present a final recommendation to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow in October.

A version of this article appeared in the June 2, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 32).

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