Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, in a six-page letter to the members of fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs), has reaffirmed MIT's support for them and asked FSILG leaders to step up to the challenges facing them in the future.
"The energy, leadership and creativity that have been so helpful in the past need to be summoned again," said Clay, outlining a series of external and MIT issues that will impact the FSILGs who will be seeking to attract the Class of 2010 in four years.
"Your groups have provided housing and a sense of community to MIT students for several generations. You are the custodians of important housing resources. You are an important link to generations of alumni who care deeply about their houses at MIT and the Institute in general."
Clay wrote, "As FSILG leaders, you are caretakers of a deep well of community spirit, connection and 'home.' We in the MIT administration are committed to working with you to ensure a successful transition through this period of change. While the administration is committed to an active and supportive role in the coming years, we cannot overemphasize the importance of your initiative and leadership in shaping the vision of your independent houses, and together in your councils, your leadership in advancing and preserving the system."
The challenges facing the FSILGs include declining national interest in fraternities, MIT's decision to house all freshmen on campus, improvements to dorms and dining facilities, the growing number of women undergraduates at MIT, and the fact that several houses in recent years were unable to attract the numbers they sought.
Clay said, "A number of your houses at MIT have taken thoughtful steps to address the current changing conditions. This gives me great hope that others will be inspired to follow you and that your efforts will bear fruit.
"I am very concerned, however, that some of your groups will not be sufficiently attentive to their challenges, thoughtful and timely in their approach, or consistent in the follow-through that will be required for the next three to five years. If this happens, I fear we will lose groups, and with them a valuable sense of community as well as leadership and service opportunities for our students. That would be an awful outcome and an unnecessary one," he said.
"I want to be clear about what MIT support will include. First, we will continue to work with your groups on a day-to-day basis. The increased staffing in the last two years will represent the core of that day-to-day support. Additionally, we will look forward to providing even greater support in resource development, as well as alumni and parent outreach. We also look forward to integrating FSILGs into our increased programming and support for student life and campus activities.
"We have already committed more than $1 million in transitional support to groups over the next three years to meet the financial challenge posed by the housing of all first-year students on campus.
"While this support is significant, it is really only transitional and requires and assumes that fraternities will work diligently to develop a sustainable operational base. Without such effort by each house, these resources will not protect the houses from problematic transitional forces nor will it ensure that they will be able to survive when these funds are exhausted.
"In order to succeed, we believe each group will need to engage in a serious strategic planning exercise to frame how it presents and manages itself in the future?
"This will require each group to answer questions about what it expects your house to be like in, say, five years, and what steps it will take for you to succeed in reaching that goal. As leaders, you have a critical role to play and the power to influence the outcomes."
Clay concluded, "I want to convey again my belief that the next three years represent a time of maximum challenge that must be addressed cooperatively, creatively and consistently by the FSILGs if they are to have a viable future.
"If we are successful in our efforts over this period, I believe FSILGs will be able to continue to play the critical role in our community that they have played over the years."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 11, 2002.