Visiting committee to discuss MIT lifeBy David B. Oberman
and Ben Stanger
The MIT Corporation Visiting Committee on Student Affairs will meet at the Institute Feb. 10-12 to discuss the quality of student life.
The Office of the Dean for Student Affairs (ODSA) held four meetings last term to discuss the quality of student life with students.
The committee will review results from those forums and a survey which was distributed last February. The committee will recommend possible solutions to problems based on their examination.
The committee will specifically look at "the support services and programs provided to students and student groups through the Student Assistance Services (SAS) section of the Dean's Office," according to the introduction to The Report to the Visiting Committee on Student Affairs prepared by the ODSA.
The SAS, headed by Dean Robert M. Randolph, provides personal advising and counseling for MIT students. It supports international, women, minority, disabled and gay students.
The committee will also address problems including concern over MIT's pace and academic pressure, a widespread feeling among minorities and gays that they are not fully accepted in the MIT community, the inadequacy of graduate housing, and a need for improved support services to the international community.
O+ Academic achievement
The report indicates that almost all students agree that the pace and pressure of academic work at MIT are high. Students reported problems ranging from developing good study habits to feeling tense about examinations. Slightly over one-third felt the stress was detrimental to their health.
O+ Social Climate
Nearly all respondents indicated some social activity at MIT. But 37 percent indicated dissatisfaction with their social lives, usually because of a lack of time and the uneven male/female ratio.
O+ Student activities
Most of the surveyed students participated in student activities, but many indicated that their participation was limited by a lack of time. Other problems cited included student apathy, activities controlled by an "in-group," and a lack of student leadership.
Of the students surveyed, 64 men and women said they had experienced isolated incidents of sexual harassment. Six men and 30 women reported incidents involving faculty members.
O+ Financial Aid
MIT's financial aid makes it possible for many students to attend the Institute who otherwise could not, but the amount that the Institute expects the student to pay has risen during a time of decreasing federal aid and high interest rates for loans. As a result, many students feel a great deal of pressure to work or to overload academically in order to graduate early.
Graduate students agreed that MIT offers a superior academic and research environment, although the "decentralized" nature of the program presents problems. Difficulties have included research pressure from supervisors, insuring proper credit, teaching assistant duties, and funding. In addition, students said departments do not follow unified policies for graduate student rights and responsibilities.
Proposed solutions in the report would include the formulation of a general policy for all graduate students and the creation of a new Graduate Student Office to help students with unique difficulties.
O+ Residential Life
An increase in housing for graduate students is becoming a necessity. Only 30 percent of all graduate students live on-campus although 50 percent would like to live on-campus. Off-campus housing is difficult to find, expensive, and inconvenient. On-campus living units were also criticized. Changes in this category are not within the ODSA's fiscal reach, according to the report.
O+ Social Life/Activities
Graduate students also face problems of social isolation within their departments due to the diffusive graduate program. Social activities are limited to the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and GSC-funded clubs. Respondents were very much in favor of the development of a Graduate Student Center.
Women students indicated slightly higher levels of difficulty and dissatisfaction with their academic work than men. The report also raised the following points for further investigation:
"(1) Is the perception by women of a greater burden a product of the greater society's image of women engineers and scientists, or is it derived from the predominantly male environment of MIT?
(2) Will this perception change as the ratio of men to women undergraduates approaches parity or should the Institute intervene?"
A small number of women reported incidents of sexual harassment, largely from faculty members. However, most students, both male and female, agreed that the overall climate for women was "acceptable," "good," or "very good."
A large number of minority students reported they felt socially isolated. Still others felt they had to excel academically in order to prove they were equal to non-minority students. Some students reported negative experiences with the Campus Police, ranging from requests for student identification cards to arrests on suspicion of theft.
About one-third of the minorities who responded to the survey rated the interracial climate at MIT as "poor" or "very poor."
The quality of life for gay students is improving, according to the report. "Overt acts against gays have declinded over the last five years. The absence of conflict has not meant that the gay community feels accepted at MIT."
The report also stated that problems arise when students learn their roommates are gay: "There is an obvious need for more education to erase ignorance and fear."
The ODSA has worked individually with the disabled students on campus to insure accessibility to MIT facilities. Disabled students would like to increase their visibility on campus. The students hope that the latter can be achieved by directing more disabled students to MIT.
Over two thousand MIT students come from foreign countries. International students are concerned with the development of a "peer counselor corps" intended to aid in the readjustment of the students. The primary goal of the international student community is to help orient new students.
Additionally, many of the student groups have difficulty locating monetary support. Their role in student life has decreased as a result.
The Visiting Committee will hold a special meeting/reception with students on Monday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 pm, in the Mezzanine Lounge of the Student Center.
The last meeting of the Visiting Committee was on Nov. 7-9, 1982, when it studied the state of student organizations at the Institute.