The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 56.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Safe Ride Service Demonstrates MIT's Failures

Column by Matthew H. Hersch

Opinion Editor

I was all set to write a column about Iraq this week when my political inclinations were tempered by a sudden urge to reassess my place in the universe.

I am, I believe, destined to be more than just another two-bit foreign affairs newspaper hack. My real purpose in life, I have now discovered -- the reason for which I was born, bred, and taught to hold pen in hand -- is to lie like an oozing, itchy boil on the fleshy buttocks of the MIT administration.

They most certainly deserve it.

My journey of self-discovery was prompted by a recent ride on MIT's bastion of inefficient mass transit, the Safe Ride van. Monday evening I decided to take my first long-distance hop on the van, from the Student Center to the end of West Campus. I had taken the van before, but never over the entire journey and never when I really needed to be someplace quickly -- as the stops along the van circuit are random and unscheduled, waiting forty minutes for a van to take me to a place I could walk to in fifteen never made much sense.

For some reason, though, I thought my Monday night trip would be different. Indeed, I was struck at first by the van's splendor. Its walls were gleaming white, its seats comfortable, and its windows clear and smudge-free. The driver was a pleasant and amiable fellow, and his cockpit was bedecked with the latest digital equipment (equipment which, I might add, allowed us to engage and destroy two Iraqi MiG-25s in the course of transit).

Unfortunately, a few stops into my flight I learned that I had made a tragic mistake. I had taken the Boston route shuttle through FratLand, not the Cambridge circuit, and would have to endure a 25 minute ride through greater Boston before I could even get back to where I had started.

This mistake seemed an honest one, especially considering that both van lines originate from the same place. When I inquired how I, Joe Average student, was supposed to know which bus I had wandered onto, the driver explained that the numeral "2" scribbled on the side of the bus indicated that it was the Boston van. When I asked why they just don't write "Boston" or "Cambridge" on the side of the van instead, he was understandably befuddled.

Such mistakes, I soon learned, happen quite frequently. Yet whenever I bring this point up I am faulted by students and staffers alike for general mental sluggishness, a failure to read all twelve volumes of the Safe Ride van instruction manual, or some psychological discomfort with numerical thinking. One plucky van driver even dismissed my grievance just as he was shooing away another student who had made the same blunder.

Though I cannot rule all of these objections out, the fact remains that using numerical codes unnecessarily is patently stupid. But I don't think that's the issue at all. For all of its triviality, this snafu indicates something very basic about MIT -- that when the MIT administration, due to accidental oversight, sheer incompetence, or bureaucratic inefficiency, makes mistakes, MIT students will sooner grin and bear it (and mock their fellow classmates who don't) than take an active role in lobbying the administration to fix whatever is wrong.

Compared to other prestigious schools, MIT is almost shockingly ignorant of student (particularly undergraduate) concerns. Campus life -- even academic life -- is openly student-hostile, while much of the administration (particularly Bursar's Office employees) seem to want to have as little to do with students as possible. MIT students, similarly, are shockingly timid in confronting MIT when it screws up.

It's about time something changed. Perhaps my metaphysical transformation will kindle a similar change in others. Probably not -- but there is still a lot the administration can do to restore student confidence in it, and fixing Safe Ride would be a good first step.

Matthew H. Hersch, a Junior in the Department of Political Science, believes that ARA's mismanagement of food service during IAP has been an insult to the MIT community.