Uncertainty in plan's impact on ILG's dorms
By Niraj S. Desai
The recommendations of the Freshman Housing Committee, if implemented, would represent the most substantial change in MIT's housing policy in more than two decades.
It was in 1966 that the present system of having residence selection for both dormitories and independent living groups during Residence/Orientation Week was first established. Preassigning all freshmen to dormitories and postponing rush until the end of the first year, as the FHC urges, could have serious detrimental effects on MIT's 33 ILGs and significantly alter life in the dormitory system.
Concern about the controversy the FHC proposal will likely generate prompted Provost John M. Deutch '61, in an interview last week, to stress that the FHC report is the first part of a long, careful process to decide the future of undergraduate housing policy. Institute-wide discussion of the FHC proposal begins with tomorrow's faculty meeting and continues at an open forum at month's end.
It is only after such discussion, Deutch said, that he will appoint two working groups to examine the FHC report. The first will concentrate on the committee's call to respond to problems in the present residential system, especially dormitories, including lack of faculty involvement, the poor physical condition of some residences, and the unevenness of student governance.
The second group will study the FHC's major recommendation that all freshmen, in future, be housed in the dormitory system. This group will consider in detail the feasibility and desirability of the plan and how it might be implemented, Deutch said. The central concern of the working group will be to see that the housing system continues to function properly, he said.
Impact on ILGs uncertain
Perhaps the biggest impact of the proposal would be on the ILG system's 27 fraternities, five coed houses, and one all-female house -- they would both lose their freshman membership and have to delay rush activities until the spring term.
Professor Mary C. Potter, chair of the FHC, suggested that the percentage of undergraduates living in ILGs might go down from the present 30 percent to about 25 percent. She added that it is impossible to predict exactly what would happen.
The report itself stated that it may be possible to compensate for the loss of freshman members by recruiting a larger percentage of undergraduates into the ILGs, though it added that this is probably unfeasible.
Undergraduate Association President Paul Antico '90 argued ILGs may be faced with the loss of even more than their freshmen under the plan. Because of the tendency of people "to stay put," students who have spent a year in the dormitories might be less likely to want to move into ILGs than incoming students are, Antico said.
The FHC report comes less than a year after the report of the Independent Living Group Review Committee, chaired by Professor Robert S. Kennedy SM '59, was issued. The Kennedy Committee, while affirming that fraternities will and should remain a significant part of MIT's residence system, suggested that their future had been made uncertain by demographic changes in the MIT student body. In particular, the smaller numbers of males on campus in recent years has made it difficult for all-male fraternities to meet their recruiting goals, according to the Kennedy report.
Potter's committee cited that report's findings in arguing that a smaller fraternity system is not undesirable. Some houses may be forced, because of the decline in membership caused the FHC proposal, to take drastic steps -- such as opening their doors to women or closing down. "What outcomes might result [if the plan is approved] is uncertain," the FHC report said.
The FHC plan, together with problems associated with demographic changes, would seem to be a "double whammy" impacting on the ILG system, InterFraternity Council President Tony Gerber '90 said.
Alternatives exist, IFC head says
While Gerber lauded the FHC's goals for the Institute's housing policy, he questioned whether the committee's recommendations would achieve those goals. Alternative measures, which would leave the basic system intact, would more effectively address problems in the present residential system, he argued in a telephone interview last night.
The Potter Committee asserted that ILG rush is inappropriate as a freshman's first experience at MIT because it involves being selected or rejected for membership by peers.
"No matter how hard we work to make rush [kinder] . . . there will always be a minority who have [a bad rush experience]," Gerber acknowledged. But he suggested that making residence selection the second part of the R/O Week agenda, after academic orientation, might lessen its impact as an introductory experience.
The FHC also argued that postponing rush to the second term of the freshman year would give students more time to examine the ILG system before making a choice. Gerber responded by saying this would also create a second major transition for freshmen to make.
Requiring all students to spend at least their first year at MIT in a common residential system would broaden their experience and promote a sense of the Institute as a community, according to the FHC.
"I am very skeptical that in the current system someone who chooses to live in the dormitory system really gets a much more diverse experience than [an ILG member," Gerber said. ". . . I feel that currently people who pledge . . . can, and in fact many do, get exposed to [a wide range of people]."
"There is always room for better programming" to introduce students to other parts of the MIT community, Gerber said, suggesting small discussion groups around campus.
IFC members will try to present similar measures as alternatives to the FHC proposal in the coming weeks, Gerber said.
Preassigned dormitories for frosh
The FHC proposal would remove dormitory selection from R/O Week -- which would become simply Orientation Week -- and place it at the end of the freshmen year, with students moving into dormitories of their choice at the beginning of the second year. During the freshman year, all students would live in preassigned dormitory rooms.
The FHC argued that three or four days during R/O Week was insufficient for freshmen to make a considered choice among residences, that the selection system created too much anxiety, and that students tended to isolate themselves among "like-minded" individuals.
Kennedy, who is a member of the FHC, said that even though housing selection would be removed from orientation, the committee intended the high level of social interaction to remain.
Dormitory Council President Elizabeth L. Williams '90 agreed that R/O Week was insufficient time for freshmen to make a fully informed decision, but added "in real life, you never have enough information" to make such a choice.
The proposal, if enacted, would tend to create a sharper division for undergraduates between the freshman year and upperclass years, Williams said.
Stacy E. Segal '90, who chaired a UA committee on housing earlier this year, criticized the FHC's basic assumptions.
"In three days, you can really get a feel of a dormitory," she said.
The proposed change in the selection process would not relieve any stress, Segal believed. In fact, it would create more because students would be faced with "not knowing where [they] are going to be next year."
Nor, she said, would distributing freshmen randomly through the dormitories encourage the building of a cohesive community. Since freshmen might be forced to move after the first year, "they [would be] less likely to care, or get into the activities of their living group," Segal said.
"By forcing students to live in a particular place, you are going to enlarge the number of students who are unhappy," Segal asserted.
Segal also rebutted the committee's contention that students presently isolate themselves among people much like themselves. While dormitories do have "personalities," she said, they generally also include a wide range of individuals.
Segal questioned the FHC report's assertion that upperclassmen play a role in which freshmen get assigned to which dormitory. Selection is largely done through lottery, she said.
Most dormitory representatives with whom she has met, Williams said, have expressed opposition to the FHC plan.