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Administration, Students Revive Housing Debate: 8: 8

By Dave Watt
Sports Editor

After years of false starts, serious discussions began in October on reforming the housing system at MIT. In addition, the administration finally provided the first glimpses of its plans for the construction of new on-campus dormitories.

The Undergraduate Association responded by forming a committee to propose an alternative to the Report of the Freshman Housing Committee, which met with widespread student criticism when it was released in October 1989.

The committee, chaired by former Provost John M. Deutch '61, was asked to examine the way freshmen choose their living groups and are oriented when they first arrive at MIT. Among other things, the report suggested that all freshmen should live on campus, with rush for independent living groups postponed until later that year.

Many administrators actively promoted the report. "The system of residence selection was designed for another era," said Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser at a UA forum on housing in November. "The system that is in place now was designed for white, Anglo-Saxon males. . . . If you're a white male, you're across the river. In the fraternities, three percent are minorities, the rest are white males. I believe it is important to have as wide a communal experience as possible."

Other faculty, and many students, have expressed serious reservations about the freshmen housing proposal. "This is not a problem that can be settled within one day or one week," said Dean for Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith at the UA forum. "It's always easier for the institution to tell people what to do. It seems to me that we have to resist that tendency whenever we can," he added.

But demographic changes may force further housing reform. The rising proportions of women and minorities at MIT make some sort of change inevitable, according to Director of Planning Ovadia R. Simha MCP '57. "Our female population is 30 percent. If it were to go up to 40 or 50 percent, the housing problems would be exacerbated. . . . We must be willing to look beyond our own personal interests."

But many students, concerned about the varied cultures created by ILGs and dormitories, oppose any changes to the current system. "Putting rush off to sophomore year would make fraternities even more homogeneous and would just hurt the dormitories," said Burton House President Susan K. Raisty '92 at the forum. "Freshmen are the life blood of a living group. . . . The dormitories would just become buildings."

One student at the forum warned that many ILGs would be in financial trouble if the housing system were to change. "If you push rush to sophomore year, a house's population would be decreased by one-fourth. If my sources are correct, one-third of the ILGs will be in serious trouble. Many fraternities will fold. I would like to see justification before this is done," the student added.

The UA has formed a committee to offer an alternative to the FHC proposal. Their report is due in March.

New dorm plan revealed

MIT revealed some of its plans for new housing construction in September in response to a proposal by Cambridge residents to rezone the area northwest of MIT, known as South Cambridgeport.

MIT plans to build undergraduate dormitories on Vassar Street, on land near the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Rehabilitation (CASPAR) homeless shelter at 240 Albany St. Due to the state of the economy, there are no plans to begin construction right now, according to Sarah J. Eusden, assistant for government and community relations.

But despite MIT's declared goal of housing 50 percent of its graduate students, no new graduate dormitories are planned at this time, Eusden added.