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Faculty discuss housing, name for bioengineering

As MIT's fraternities embark upon spring rush this week, Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict announced last week that $750,000 had been allocated for fraternities, sororities and independent living groups to ease their transition into a new housing system in the fall.

At the same time, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay reported on plans to alleviate crowding in MIT housing at last Wednesday's faculty meeting.

Members of the class of 2006 will be required to live on campus during their freshman year. About one-third of previous freshman classes have chosen to reside in fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs), meaning an additional 300-350 first-year students must be accommodated on campus in the fall. In addition, Clay said, the system currently is about 140 beds short, which affects the living conditions of about 400 students.

Noting that Simmons Hall is the first undergraduate residence to be built since 1981, Clay said, "We have hit a capacity wall." The problem has been exacerbated by the loss of two fraternities in the past four years. Simmons Hall, which accommodates 350, is scheduled to open in August.

Clay said several strategies were evolving to address the crowding problem on campus. These include limiting incoming freshmen and transfer students to 1,000 a year in the foreseeable future (about 50 fewer than recent years) and offering support to the FSILGs during the transition period.

Benedict's announcement was a first step in that direction.

"The FSILGs are a critical part of our residence system and of our university," Benedict said. "The move to house all freshmen will be a major change to the FSILG system and we are prepared to work with them individually and as a group to insure their success during this time. The funding is part of it, but so is strategic planning, and we are encouraging all the FSILGs to engage in such planning as well."

The preliminary plan calls for FSILGs to receive a reimbursement equal to 80 percent of the fixed facility cost for each empty bed for three years. The payment for 2002-03 would be based on the average number of freshmen in the facility from 1999 to 2002 and would be reduced by one third in each of the next two years. The lnstitute would also pay half of the fixed facility cost for fifth-year students at FSILGs. The percentages may change as details are worked out.

"We have quite a bit of work to do to make the students understand the attractiveness of the FSILGs," Clay said. "If we're successful, we should have a well-enhanced housing system ... We have our work cut out for us to make sure we correct the system in the next five years."

Other business at the faculty meeting included:
A report on renaming the Division of Bioengineering and Environmental Health (BEH) as the Biological Engineering Division (BE). Established in 1998, it currently has two doctoral programs and two undergraduate minor programs. Professor Douglas A. Lauffenburger, co-director of BE, noted that the visiting committee in 2000 recommended that a new title be developed "to promote integration of our faculty and to make clear to the rest of the world the revolutionary direction our division has embarked upon."

Professor Thomas L. Magnanti noted "sensitivity" to the new title in the Department of Chemical Engineering and left the door open for that department to change its name in the future.

Professor Stephen C. Graves, chair of the faculty, reported on the formation of the Committee on Access and Disclosure of Scientific Information ( see MIT Tech Talk, Feb. 13 ).

Action on a motion to re-establish June 9 as the date of the 2006 Commencement was postponed until the March meeting. In December, a misunderstanding on the dates of Commencement led to the approval of a motion to move the 2006 graduation to June 5 to avoid a conflict with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on June 2. There is no conflict on June 9.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 27, 2002.

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