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Students seek group om housing problems

By Niraj S. Desai

In response to the Freshman Housing Committee's recent report, an undergraduate student committee has proposed the creation of a working group composed of students and faculty to examine problems in the present residential system and to recommend solutions alternative to the FHC's plan to house all freshmen in dormitories.

No members of the faculty or administration have yet been enlisted to join the group -- which already includes a number of students -- but Associate Provost S. Jay Keyser has expressed enthusiasm for the idea, according to chairman Stacy A. Segal '90. A mailing to faculty members describing the working group is planned for later this week.

The group will focus on specific problems in housing, especially those cited by the FHC, and will seek to devise individual solutions for those problems. The student organizers are motivated, in part, by a belief that the FHC did not adequately explore alternatives before recommending a sweeping overhaul of the undergraduate residential system.

Under the FHC's plan, freshmen would be preassigned to dormitories, and would be able to move into independent living groups or make a choice among dormitories only at the start of the sophomore year.

Those who favor addressing residence problems in other ways need to document their ideas as a counterweight to the FHC report, according to Undergraduate Association President Paul Antico '90. Otherwise the FHC report will dominate the debate on undergraduate housing policy, he explained. That debate picks up this afternoon at an Institute-wide open forum on freshman housing.

Offshoot of previous committee

The proposed working group is an offshoot of last year's UA-appointed Undergraduate Student Housing Committee, which was also chaired by Segal. Whereas the USHC took a broad look at undergraduate housing in anticipation of the Provost-appointed Freshman Housing Committee's report, the working group will limit itself to recommending solutions for specific problems, Segal said.

The joint student/faculty group will not issue a final formal report, but will make recommendations periodically as its discussions continue, Segal said.

Unlike the USHC, which had its report reviewed by the UA Coun

cil, the working group will not have its recommendations approved by the UA Council or any other body, according to Segal. The UA Council did not approve formation of the working group, though UA President Antico did.

Regardless of what the eventual involvement of faculty members and administrators is, Segal and Antico hope that students will retain control of the group, at least its chair. In addition to the students who have already expressed interest in participating in the working group, other undergraduates are expected to join, Segal said.

A number of students, many of them former members of the USHC, have met twice in the past two weeks to discuss formation of the working group and to begin formulating a response to the FHC report.

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Efficacy of FHC plan questioned

At a meeting of about 15 undergraduates and former undergraduates last night, the consensus was that the FHC recommendations would work against its stated goals for the residential system.

The FHC apparently believes that distributing freshmen randomly through the dormitory system -- though reducing students' identification with their living groups -- will encourage identification with MIT as a whole and break down barriers between groups, David L. Atkins '90 asserted. But it is unrealistic to assume that simply scrambling many different kinds of people together will result in "one big happy family," he argued.

Rather than trying to make itself a community of individuals, MIT should build a community of groups, Atkins said. "Build bridges between the islands, don't flood the sea."

A number of students argued that weakening students' attachment to their living groups would hurt the support system that those groups provide, especially to freshmen.

Some argued that many of the problems in student life cited by the FHC are not a result of housing policies, but of MIT academics and culture. Rather than focusing on freshman housing, the administration should seek to "make MIT a more positive experience for upperclassmen," Joseph L. Vanderway '89 said.