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Housing Office plan for dorms threatens graduate community

The Tech's recent report on graduate student housing ["Plan gives first-year grads priority," Oct. 3] prompts us to commend you for airing an important issue.

To arrive in Cambridge at the end of the summer, perhaps from a faraway country, only to be confronted with the dreadful housing market in Cambridge or Boston is a distressing and disillusioning experience. As well as being greatly inconvenienced, one must feel unwanted. We at Ashdown will work with the housing office to alleviate the situation as much as possible, but the present proposal is bad.

The efforts of the Graduate Student Council and of MIT's Office of Housing and Food Services to make things better for incoming graduate students is to be applauded. The means by which this "new" plan was developed, however, were highly reprehensible. It was worked out in secret over the summer by a group of people that do not represent on-campus graduate students or international students at all, in spite of the fact that the GSC and the Housing Office knew perfectly well that both these groups had legitimate concerns about portions of the plan.

Two years ago a similar plan was put forward and adopted by the same two groups, even the same individuals. It had to be withdrawn, because it was unworkable and because of fierce opposition from the on-campus community (who knew what they were talking about, but were not themselves affected by the proposed policy change). The groups developing the earlier plan showed no willingness to entertain or act on any other approaches. A policy repeatedly proposed as the best solution demands nothing of its proponents. The new proposal is not much different from the old, which is no surprise since the same group fashioned it.

To live in a graduate student community, particularly Ashdown House or Green Hall, but also Tang Hall and the other dormitories, is a very important educational experience for many. There is more to be learned than is taught in lectures or laboratories. One need only think of the immensely valuable interactions between American and international graduate students, coming from different cultures and political experiences. To us, living among them, it is clear how much mutual learning goes on, especially at the individual level. The "new" plan would greatly diminish the effectiveness of this educational process.

The plan makes 50 percent of Ashdown residents, for example, untenured, as opposed to the present system whereby new arrivals can stay as long as their studies demand. For these 50 percent their accommodation quickly becomes a shelter only form which to seek better accommodations, not a community of peers. In our experience with the previous untenured housing policy, these untenured students quite naturally do not participate as much as a community. The effect of the new policy at Ashdown would be to greatly decrease, perhaps destroy, the community spirit that we and many others have labored to construct and perpetuate. The pool of tenured students would be too small. As it is, some 36 percent of all spaces at Ashdown are available for arriving (tenured) graduate students each September anyway, because we have so many master's candidates. The new proposal adds few spaces, yet because of the untenured arrivals the fabric of the community is threatened for a relatively small gain.

Another group that would be greatly affected is the married graduate students with children who would be forced to make new arrangements for their children after only one year, a major dislocation of their lives.

Most people agree that the real solution to the problem of accommodating the graduate students who wish to live on campus is for MIT to build more graduate student housing, a current project of MIT's capital funds drive, Campaign for the Future. We should unite in making sure that the MIT administration is aware of the disparate need for on-campus graduate student housing and make sure that we will get his additional housing. The current graduate student housing policy does not meet the needs of all incoming students, but it does provide much more than shelter to many students. Let us not diminish or destroy what we now offer, but find more creative solutions to help all graduate students.

Beth and Vernon Ingram->


Ashdown House->