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Housing first year grads should be top priority

I am writing in response to the letter from the housemasters at Ashdown House, Beth and Vernon Ingram ["Housing Office plan for dorms threatens graduate community," Oct. 13]. They have surely missed the point about the urgent need for housing of first year graduate students. In their letter, they say that "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." They obviously have their priorities mixed up: shelter is a fundamental need, and any fluff which accompanies it should be considered at most secondary. The graduate student community overwhelmingly indicated this in the survey compiled by the Graduate Student Council Housing and Community Affairs Committee, as reported in The Tech. Eighty-two percent of the respondents indicated that first year students should be given priority for on-campus housing.

The Ingram's admission that finding an apartment in the Boston/Cambridge housing market is a "distressing", "disillusioning", and "inconvenient" experience does not even confront the economic realities of the problem. Current MIT policies governing on-campus housing distribution do not minimize overall graduate student hardship because they create a system of haves and have nots.

First year graduate students who do not receive on campus housing face undue inconveniences as well as an economic fine of about $1000-$1500 that first year graduate students who receive housing do not (given summer transportation to Boston, lodging, and meals while looking for an apartment, time lost from work, realtor's fee, etc.).

But finding an apartment from a Boston/Cambridge base during the summer after the first year of graduate school is not nearly as inconvenient, expensive, or difficult, since options for finding shelter are much more varied and accessible, not to mention that one has an entire year instead of several days to determine which areas are safe and affordable.

Given the obvious needs of the first year graduate students and the desires of the graduate student community, any plan that does not guarantee all incoming graduate students at least one year of on-campus housing and allows others to remain indefinitely is inherently unfair. Unless all of the incoming students are offered housing, those who were unfortunate and did not receive housing carry both the financial and time burden of securing off-campus housing. While any plan which improves the situation by increasing the number of available spots in housing for incoming graduate students will attenuate the problem, until every graduate student wanting on-campus housing in their first year receives it, the system remains inherently unfair.

Other universities are able to provide one year of guaranteed housing for all incoming students with all other spaces available by lottery each year, achieving a fair and equitable distribution and having dorms with a community atmosphere. There is no reason MIT could not do the same.

Of course it would be nice if MIT built more housing; however, no matter what happens, that will not occur overnight. Therefore, MIT should concentrate on distributing equitably the housing that it has.

As for the "new" plan, that the Ingrams find to be so bad, it obviously does not even meet the needs of incoming graduate students and is thus still inherently unfair. As with most proposals, however, it is clearly a compromise, and the authors of the proposed plan should be applauded for their courage and efforts which have begun to address compelling needs of first year graduate students.

Linda Baston G->