Freshmen housing system is sound, despite flaws
As a current consultant for Zeta Psi International Fraternity and past president of both my fraternity and the MIT InterFraternity Council, I feel compelled to respond to the Report of the Freshman Housing Committee which came across my desk this Monday. Apparently, the administration is not content with the Kennedy Committee's report released last year, and has once again decided to review the independent living group system, this time under the guise of the Freshman Housing Committee.
The question to be answered is what is wrong with the current Residence/Orientation process, and moreover, with the residence system as it now exists? MIT is one of a handful of institutions that allows its students the complete freedom of choice in residence selection. Freshmen arrive on campus armed with information they have gathered during summer rush, and the Institute allows them the freedom to choose between all-male fraternities, coed dorms, single-sex dorms, coed ILGs, language houses, and anything else I left out. It is truly an exhilarating experience for those being liberated from the bonds of high school and home life. Yes, there is the threat of rejection, but why should MIT try to shield its students from reality during R/O when they will face a plethora of rejection in the classroom?
MIT treats its students like the adults they are. It is not a place for students who need to be coddled in freshman housing; those types of students will be crushed by MIT's intensity. MIT is a place for students who can make good decisions quickly. And they do. According to the latest Barron's Guide to Colleges, a mere two percent of MIT students drop out after freshman year. There are few if any universities that can boast such an impressive retention rate. Furthermore, the percentage of students who join a fraternity or ILG and de-pledge or move out is insignificant. To me, this means that the vast majority of MIT students are satisfied with their residence selections. Why then the need for a review?
The FHC recommendations include housing freshmen, by preassignment, in the dormitories. Freshmen would be distributed throughout the dorms so that they will live with upperclassmen. How this will "give members of each class an opportunity to know each other and develop a sense of unity," I am uncertain. Regarding providing "strong support for the transition to the academic demands of MIT," surely a small group such as an ILG is a more conducive atmosphere for such support than a huge dormitory can be.
Rush would be deferred until second semester freshman year, with students who join fraternities or ILGs moving into them at the beginning of sophomore year. Now not only will upperclassmen have to spend second semester organizing and implementing rush (which would still be competitive and costly and would still entail that horrible concept, rejection), but rush would also burden first-term sophomores with the adjustment to fraternity/ sorority/ILG life. I wonder how many committee members actually went to MIT under the current R/O and pass/fail system? Obviously few of them, otherwise they would know that the first term of sophomore year is the most difficult of one's MIT career and therefore wouldn't even consider adding further stress to it.
Having seen four R/O weeks and been involved in planning one of them, I agree that there are shortcomings in the system: a week is too short a time period in which to choose a place to live; there is not enough orientation during R/O week; and freshman rush does in an indirect way result in a living-group based campus life. I believe these are flaws in a basically sound system.
The IFC and the Undergraduate Academic Support Office have made great progress in providing frosh with the information necessary to come to campus prepared to make choices. There are dozens of summer rush parties in almost every region of the country each summer. The administration has begun to make an effort to provide more interesting orientation programming, like the in-house book discussions. At other universities, freshmen are required to get a card stamped after attending orientation programs, and cannot register for classes without getting the cards stamped. This is surely an easier and less costly way to ensure that freshmen attend orientation programs.
In terms of creating a less living-group oriented campus, I don't see the wisdom in this. MIT is a demanding place, and without the stability of a small-group living environment, many students will not find the Institute a bearable place to attend school. I know that I would not have survived MIT, or at least retained my sanity and self-respect, without the support of my fraternity from day one. I suspect that many other students share similar feelings about their MIT living group experience. If the Institute wants to live up to its high educational ideals, then let the student body vote on the proposal. Surely if MIT students are capable of handling the workload here, they are competent enough to decide whether the R/O and ILG systems work well.
The point I have not even addressed is the impact that deferred rush and pledging would have on the fraternity and ILG system. In my opinion, a significant portion of our ILGs would be forced to close for financial reasons. With only three classes living in the ILGs, it is inevitable that some of the smaller houses will go bankrupt. If the administration has the intention of doing away with the fraternity and ILG system, then let it say so in an open and straightforward manner. The Institute has enough housing currently for all of its undergraduate students. Yes, some dorms are crowded, but others, such as Bexley, have recently been rather empty. The fraternities and ILGs have been pulling their weight for over 105 years; the net effect of this proposal will be to undermine the ILG system which for many has been the most positive aspect of their MIT experience.
One of the main reasons I chose MIT over other fine academic institutions is precisely the freedom of choice that the Institute affords incoming frosh, and affords its undergraduates in terms of choice of courses and majors. I am sure that many other students choose MIT for these reasons as well. I am glad that MIT has been broadening its curriculum offerings and becoming more diverse. Don't destroy the fraternity and ILG system in the process.
Jeffrey M. Hornstein '89->
Zeta Psi International Fraternity->