Freshman housing plan would create undesirable rooming matches
Imagine the following scenario: four men come to a university to study for four years. They are randomly placed in the same room, which must remain their home for a period of one year. Even though they have some initial conflicts, at the end of the year they all become the best of friends. Sounds like a plot for a tear-jerking movie, soon to be released in a theater near you, doesn't it? Now we can find out what the characters are: a fundamentalist Southern Christian from Little Rock, a Hassid from Jerusalem, a supplanted Palestinian from Amman, and a black homosexual from Detroit. Are we still talking about the same movie? I don't believe anyone would come to watch such a film, except, possibly, for Mary C. Potter, John M. Deutch '61, and Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, for we are not talking about a Hollywood production. We are attempting to comprehend the logic behind the proposed change in the freshman housing selection system at MIT.
A number of MIT administrators seems to habitually introduce reforms for the sake of reforming. As the frequent leader of this group, Deutch, currently the MIT provost, has developed a sizable following who want to be seen as the future of MIT. This is the same bunch that served up the ever-so-popular Admissions Reform and the core-like Humanities Reform. Yet another blunder by hoping-soon-to-be-president Deutch is the Freshman Housing Committee's proposal which gives us more of a taste of his planning for the future -- his future, that is. Although the Housing Reform is consistent with the chain of recent policy decisions, it is very inconsistent with the tradition of excellence in science and engineering education and research which has been the hallmark of MIT. This makes us question the motives of the reformers: why push through housing reform?
The answer is that pressure from the MIT Corporation for a major increase in the endowment has caused the MIT administration to alter educational policy in order to promote increased alumni contributions. The admissions reform was intended to allow the selection of a larger number of "well-rounded" students. These career-oriented alumni would be more likely to accept higher-paying managerial positions and gratefully contribute to their alma mater. It was similarly believed that the humanities reform would make students more "well-rounded," thus increasing their marketability. The housing reform hopes to break the students' bonds to their living groups. This would, according to the freshman housing committee, "increase class unity and identification with MIT as a whole" -- resulting in greater generosity among alumni towards MIT, which would become the solitary focusing point of their educational experience.
Members of the administration, and especially members of the corporation, would have us believe that excellence in education is expendable in favor of a major increase in the endowment. Students and concerned faculty should be alarmed by their narrowly-focused preoccupation with raising the endowment at the expense of the quality of education at MIT.
These reforms have traditionally cited the same superficial excuse for their implementation: to diversify the student body, thus enriching the student experience at MIT. This may appear to be the reason for the proposed housing reform, but has anyone ever achieved diversity through homogeneity?
Under the current housing system, living groups have developed individual personalities. This "house character" would be severely reduced, if not completely eliminated, if the proposed reforms are implemented. Differentiation is essential to the preservation of minority groups -- not just ethnic and gender minorities, even though they are just as likely to be affected, but also minorities differentiated by sexual or culinary preferences, political or ideological thinking, and lifestyle.
These administrators frequently point to the problems of Residence/Orientation Week and quickly blame the current housing system for these shortcomings, but their analysis only shows a misunderstanding of the nature of the stress of rush week. R/O at MIT, appropriately dubbed "rush week," is extremely hectic, but the stress is not caused by the number of decisions which students have to make. The stress and confusion come from entering a new environment, from being alone away from home -- for the first time for many -- and from anxiety about the rigor and brutality of classes. (Just count how many times the students are warned during the week by the administration, the faculty, and fellow students that they will no longer be at the top of their classes.) The action and attention are misguided: it is the orientation process that should be changed, not the housing system. Also, the administrators say that R/O is problematic because it is mostly designed for men, and women feel left out; again they misunderstand the problem: the solution is to create more options for women, not fewer for everybody.
To complicate matters further, this misguided attempt to direct increased funds into more undergraduate housing will exacerbate the problem of graduate housing, which is now grossly insufficient. Why isn't MacVicar as concerned with communication problems between two graduate students in the same lab that exist because one lives in Brookline and the other in Somerville?
The current housing system is crowded and the extra space is needed to relieve the overcrowding. MIT needs its fraternities, if for no other reason than to supply the space for the extra 1200-1300 students whom the Institute cannot afford to house in the dormitory system. The effect of the reform would be immediately devastating, if not annihilating, for many independent living groups, including some of the fraternities which are older than all of the dormitories. The proposed extra 300-350 spaces would be insufficient to house the 1200-1300 students who would be forced to move if their living groups were not capable of supporting themselves financially.
No matter how much we would like not to notice it, there is always some racism, sexism, homophobia, and all sorts of discrimination in the living groups. No one wants to put up with that, but at least now these incidents do not generate resentment towards MIT, since it is mostly a personal conflict by a widely-spread traditional bigotry. The new housing policy is supposed to educate students to get along and communicate with each other, but I do not see how the revised policy would resolve conflicts any differently from the present one. In fact, it makes matters worse by eliminating any preliminary self-selection in the living groups.
The majority of the freshman housing committee undoubtedly meant well, but they might have been misguided in their intentions.
Victor Steinbok '87->