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Campus changes have improved morale, Benedict says

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The two new residence halls and the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center have made a "palpable difference" in the quality of students and faculty lives alike, Dean for Student Life Larry Benedict said at the Oct. 16 faculty meeting.

Faculty members also heard an update from the Committee on Access and Disclosure of Scientific Information, proposals for two new graduate degrees in Engineering Systems, and a resolution on the death of Rudiger W. Dornbusch, the Ford International Professor of Economics.

Speaking about orientation and the beginning of the new school year, Benedict noted that all freshmen were accommodated on campus for the first time "with nary a peep or complaint." Changes in Orientation and housing-choice procedures produced a "very high degree of contentedness" among students. These new procedures included giving students "more information earlier and a successful summer lottery," he said.

Changes in the Stratton Student Center, including a new lounge area and relocated game room, and major changes in dining vendors were making a positive difference in the quality of student life, Benedict said. Eliminating overcrowding in the undergraduate halls has been another source of high morale.

"FSILG rush was done very differently this year because of the fact that all freshmen are living on campus. To date they have recruited 236 [students], which is short of last year's 330; we have some work to do with them this year to get those numbers up," Benedict said.

Faculty and students benefited from the absence of freshman rush that took place in past years, he said. "Students are already asking to move rush to Labor Day next year. But it worked not having rush right before classes start. Faculty said students seemed much more awake and ready to get to work this year."

Benedict also praised the Senior Segue program, in which MIT seniors could choose to live in a graduate residence, as a solid example of community building. "It's a win-win. Seniors who are tired of undergrad life but not quite ready to move on bring a deep knowledge of MIT to graduate students new to the Institute," he said.

Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert Redwine echoed Benedict's sentiment on the benefits of alleviating crowding in housing units. "This has had important educational as well as morale-building effects," he said.

Redwine also commented on changes in grading, communication-intensive courses, and advising and mentoring at MIT.

"In general, we do a good job with advising and mentoring in the first year, but like most institutions, we need to do a better job beyond the first year. Another question we will be addressing is, 'Are we as a community taking full advantage of the remarkable diversity in our student population?'" he said.


Institute Professor Sheila E. Widnall presented the main findings and recommendations from the report by the Committee on Access and Disclosure. The complete text of this report, titled "In the Public Interest," was distributed to faculty at the meeting. (See MIT Tech Talk, June 12).

Widnall described the report as a "tremendous opportunity to state publicly MIT's values about research. Through it, MIT is positioned as a leader. We are committed to public service and to our nation's security needs."

The initial finding of the committee was that "retaining an open research environment with free flow of research results and information on the MIT campus is the best way for MIT to fulfill its public service responsibility."

Its initial recommendation, therefore, was that "no classified research should be carried out on campus; that no student, graduate or undergraduate, should be required to have a security clearance to perform thesis research; and that no thesis research should be carried out in areas requiring access to classified materials."

Widnall, describing agreements with research sponsors who want early results as a "slippery slope," warned that "the more restrictions we accept, the more we'll get."


Professor of Civil Engineering Daniel Roos, associate dean of engineering for engineering systems, and Professor Daniel E. Hastings, director of the Technology and Policy Program, presented proposals for establishing S.M. and Ph.D. degree programs in engineering systems.


President Charles Vest led the faculty in a moment of silence in memory of Professor Dornbusch, who died on July 25. Olivier Blanchard, head of the Department of Economics, read some comments on Professor Dornbusch's achievements and personality. Dornbusch will be remembered for his "vitality, wit and deep personal warmth," Blanchard said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 23, 2002.

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