School of Humanities expansion plans threaten student activities
The School of Humanities and Social Science is expanding its empire by seizing the resources allocated for extracurricular student activities. This departmental land-grab is being carried out in secret, with no involvement by student government or the student activities these actions are destroying.
While our committee is certainly in favor of more and better humanities options for students, we feel that the School of Humanities' current plan is wrong-thinking, cynical, and destructive. Their worthwhile goals must not be accomplished at the cost of drastically reduced quality of life for students and the involuntary disbanding of popular student activities.
The blueprint for this takeover of student assets is a 1988 document titled "Accommodating the Performing Arts at MIT." This 62-page report, commissioned and researched by the SHSS but completed by outside consultants, presents several options, including "Scheme D" -- give us a new building (costing $25 million); "Scheme B" -- give us every large lecture hall on campus, rip out the seats, and renovate them for our use (costing $9.8 million); and "Scheme A" -- give us Walker Memorial and other selected rooms on campus (costing $2.3 million).
In a later SHSS document titled "Five-Year Plan, FY 1990-94," the authors acknowledge that a new arts building will not be possible "in the foreseeable future." They then mount an urgent plea for ownership of Walker Memorial and various campus assets currently owned and used by others.
Not surprisingly, MIT appears to be implementing the plan presented to them as the "cheapest." However, the true costs of this program are dramatically understated in the SHSS report. And the human costs of this program have not been addressed at all.
Part of the problem lies with the so-called "co-curricular" student activities. For several years the Undergraduate Association and the Association of Student Activities have tolerated, and even generously supported, several organizations which use the
fig leaf of student officers to conceal the fact that they are actually functions of academic departments.
Students participating in these "clubs" usually get academic credit. Faculty members are paid to supervise them; in fact, running these activities is usually a significant part of the supervisor's professional duties and
is included in the formal job description.
Academic departments substantially underwrite the day-to-day operation of these activities; however, they are not above dipping into the meager resources which MIT allocates for student extracurricular life. The UA has frequently subsidized them with grants drawn from the UA's modest pool of available cash.
The music, dance, and theater arts people now demand that the current activities vacate their offices. As stated on page 20 of the "1989-1990 Long-Range Plan for Music, Theater, and Dance":
"The most critical space needs are for Theater and Dance, and the most urgent need is to secure dedicated control of the spaces they are presently using.
"The use of the spaces listed below, which include vital rehearsal, design, construction, and even office space, are currently controlled by the Campus Activities Complex and are subject to the shifting needs, interests, and perceptions of the Association of Student Activities and the staff of the Campus Activities Complex. At the moment, there is even a threat of losing some of the already inadequate space the program depends on.
"The ASA and CAC have already raised questions about the Theater program's control of Walker 201, the only room suitable for teaching many of the core studio courses, the use of the newly refurbished Costume Room which is now shared by Dramashop, Shakespeare Ensemble, and Dance Workshop, and office space in Kresge."
What the SHSS so bluntly proposes is the large-scale confiscation of student activity space. The report goes on to list rooms that others have generously shared with them in Kresge, the Stratton Student Center, the Armory, Building E-20, and Walker Memorial; then it presents a huge "shopping list" of additional spaces they wish to seize.
The scope of their demands extends far beyond the spaces they are already using. In Walker, for example, they also demand exclusive possession of the gym, the showers and bathrooms, Morss Hall, much of the basement, and most of the third floor.
Perhaps the most odious aspect of this secret coup is the map of Walker's third floor included in the SHSS master plan: It shows the offices of seven healthy and popular student activities with their names scratched out and the new departmental uses penciled in. For all of these doomed clubs, the unauthorized viewing of this page was the first and only notice they have ever received about coming events.
Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh has already embarked on a program for the "Walker Recreation Center," which so far includes the unannounced seizure of some activity offices and the padlocking of others. These unprecedented actions have occurred without any form of written notice, and without the consultation or involvement of student government, despite their supposed stewardship over the rooms.
So far, these actions have closely paralleled the goals of the SHSS master plan for the takeover of Walker. However, it has been impossible to get the CAC to document its actions and intentions in writing, particularly where the seizure of offices is concerned.
Verbal communication between the CAC and the affected activities has been so outrageous that several activities have a new unwritten policy: "Don't speak to Phil Walsh unless there are other students present to witness the conversation."
Needless to say, the covert implementation of this plan is already generating anger, anxiety, and suspicion among the student body. The unfair and high-handed treatment of students can only poison their feelings towards the School of Humanities and Social Science.
Another major problem with the music, dance, and theater arts plan is that it callously ignores the fact that Senior House and Walker Memorial were designed and built as a unit. Senior House, and later the East Campus dorms, were constructed as "Roman-style" apartments: a block of bedrooms and bathrooms, stripped of other amenities. By design, Walker Memorial contains the lounges, dining halls, and other social facilities deliberately excluded from the dorms.
Walker Memorial is a crucial component in the quality of life for Senior House and East Campus residents. With the current extreme overcrowding of these dorms, the role of Walker's rooms, facilities, and open spaces is more important than ever.
Nostalgic alumni present another critical problem for the SHSS's designs on Walker. The building's granite face bears the inscription: "Gift of the Alumni to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," and there can be no doubt that any significant "re-purposing" of Walker will lead to passionate and sometimes vitriolic debate among members of the Alumni Association.
The School of Humanities and Social Science would do well to remember that all alumni over the age of 45 and a significant portion of the younger ones have strong emotional ties to Walker and the activities it has housed.
This important demographic provides the bulk of donations and gifts to the Institute. The souring of even one percent of these gifts would cost the Campaign for the Future several million dollars in lost revenue.
Is the Alumni Association absolutely sure that it wants the School of Humanities to mess around with Walker?
The proposed seizure of Walker comes at a time when many other student activity spaces are also disappearing. The imminent demolition of Building 20 will eliminate the offices of several clubs currently housed there: Most notably, the Model Railroad Club will lose its enormous layout.
The SHSS has recently kicked the Outing Club's kayaks and canoes out of Building E-20. And the fifth floor of the student center, which was originally earmarked for the expansion of student activities, is instead being consumed by the ever-bloating bureaucracy of the Campus Activities Complex management. Never before has MIT's extracurricular life faced an assault of this magnitude.
Meanwhile, most of the student activity spaces currently "on loan" to music, dance, and theater arts groups are being used for dead storage. Many of these rooms are needless duplicates of facilities that already exist elsewhere.
An increasing number of of homeless and displaced clubs are asking: "How many set construction shops are really needed on campus? Why are so many useful rooms being squandered on prop and costume storage?"
The Walker Memorial Committee demands a full and public accounting of the administration's plans and intentions for student activity space in Walker and elsewhere. If our rooms are being taken, we want equivalent replacements.
The administration must stop keeping secrets from students. If MIT is moving to reduce the quality of life for its students, it must let the students know. If MIT is changing its relationship with the alumni, it must let the alumni know.
And if MIT is seizing the assets traditionally allocated for extracurricular activities and giving them to academic departments, then the MIT community has the right -- in fact, the need -- to know.
Brian Bradley '89->
Christopher Coon '90->
for the Walker Memorial Committee->