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Untenures housing plans for first year grad student inevitably backfire

I agree that the housing situation for newly arriving graduate students at MIT is a disaster which requires immediate attention. However, I oppose implementation of an "untenured" housing policy in Ashdown House not because I am "selfish" as Mark Engel's letter ["First-year students deserve priority in housing," Oct. 17] would have you believe, but because just such a plan was recently tried and quickly repealed just over a year ago.

I have very recent memories of all the newly arriving students complaining to the Housing Office about the failure of one-year non-renewable leases on campus and their demand that all on-campus beds be made tenured. In addition to strongly agreeing with Mark Engel's position that the Albany Street dormitory should be reserved exclusively for newly arriving graduate students, I believe the real solution requires that MIT make a new graduate dormitory the first priority on the extension of the Campaign for the Future.

Portrayal of on-campus students as selfish simply because they oppose the idea of untenured housing doesn't wash. Every untenured policy proposed so far fully grandfathers all on-campus students, so certainly their reasons for opposition have nothing to do with their personal circumstances. Historically, on-campus students have done more than their share to help newly arriving students. For example, last year the telethon for graduate student housing drew 25 percent of Ashdown residents, though Ashdown at that time comprised less than 10 percent of the graduate student population. The Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, which was essential to creating the Albany Street dorm, was well attended by graduate students, but half of them were from Ashdown House. Beth and Vernon Ingram were the prime movers in the recent addition of 28 beds to Ashdown by conversion of under-used basement space. I believe 15 percent of all on-campus rents are continually put into a fund which recently made Albany Street a reality. We do not oppose untenured housing because we are fundamentally selfish, we oppose it because of its recent history of failure.

That's right. The Institute recently repealed a policy similar to one being proposed now because the complaints from the students affected by the policy were so numerous that it became impossible to administer. New students were arriving in untenured slots and then immediately trying to get out of their one-year lease rather than waiting to be kicked out the following August when the housing market would become a nightmare again. New students who found special value in the on-campus communities were complaining that they could not build meaningful relationships over time since they would have to move out in one year. Ashdown showed an unusually large vacancy that spring as so many wanted to move out and few wanted to move into untenured slots. What became apparent after this experience was that the quality as well as the quantity of beds for new students is of importance. Ashdown had 35 percent or 150 beds for new students this fall without the untenured policy. The new policy would push that to 50 percent, but one must recognize that those 50 percent are exclusively non-renewable leases and that the 35 percent we offer now are all renewable.

The experience we have with untenured policy shows us that most new students would rather accept the lower odds with the better housing, especially after a month or two of living under tenured policy.

A policy must be formulated which truly solves the problem of the graduate student housing crisis at MIT instead of changing its form so some people will imagine it went away. Mark Engel hits the nail on the head in his call for Albany Street to be reserved exclusively for first year graduate students. Think of the opportunities to meet future off-campus roommates for those who chose it; similar plans, such as Harvard's freshman houses, have been successful.

Lastly we must recognize that graduate students must no longer tolerate some second rate status at MIT. It is really laughable how slow MIT has been to build the necessary graduate housing when these very students are the workhorses responsible for the Institute's greatness as a research institution. New graduate housing must become the first priority of the extended Campaign for the Future.

Jim Abbott G->