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Housing Proposal Not an Insensible Idea

Column by Michael K. Chung
staff reporter

"There's been a lot of talk about this next song, maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song; this song is Sunday, Bloody Sunday,' " declared Bono, lead singer of U2, in a live recording at Red Rocks Stadium in the early 1980s. Regarding the recent proposal to move Senior House and East Campus residents to Ashdown House, there has been a lot of talk, but not surprisingly, a lack of initial solicitation of students' concerns on the part of the administration.

By now the subject has developed into a rather emotional issue within the MIT community. The issue is not about giving east side residents a taste of west campus culture. It is apparent, though not necessarily immediately apparent, that the larger issue is the prospect of building more dormitories. The long-term goal of the administration could be to have another row of dormitories along Vassar Street, on the opposite side of Briggs Field.

If this proposal is passed and carried out, what may eventually surface is the construction of a new group of dormitories along the fields, parallel to Vassar Street. A glimpse of the west side of campus may reveal something of a traditional college campus quad. One could even imagine all the buildings in red brick and call it the new Harvard Yard, but I doubt that many readers of The Tech would want that.

To group all undergraduate students living in dormitories (with the possible exception of Random and Huntington Halls) on one side of campus is by no means insensible. If MIT's housing arrangement were such that Ashdown House (and Green Hall, a women's graduate student dormitory) was an undergraduate dorm, and East Campus and Senior House were graduate dormitories when you arrived at MIT, it would have made sense, right?

To move from the present situation to the proposed arrangement is bound to generate conflict, especially for those who are currently living in any of the dormitories. A glance at the numbers of residents at each dormitory will quickly reveal some logistical problems: East Campus houses approximately 400 students, Senior House houses 157 students (maximum of 160), and Ashdown is home for 381 students (maximum of 420).

Lets do some simple math: East Campus plus Senior House is much greater than Ashdown House. And the administrators claim that they want to alleviate crowding, please the students, and give the east side residents a taste of west campus.

"What's up with that," you might ask? Or, considering that renovations are in the works for Senior House, a few undergrads of the more paranoid sort might think that they give everything to graduate students - lab space, regular paychecks, and now renovated housing. And to think that undergrads are the ones who pay money to go to school here!

But lets take a step back. We all know that freshman crowding has become something of an annual ritual. It is unlikely that the administrators want to make the students suffer much more in the way of housing. The current discussion is not the well-being of merely today's students, but the well-being of students of many years to come. True, there is a great deal of history, tradition, and emotion at stake (for instance, Steer Roast, the Coffee Hour at Ashdown, and quite simply, just living on the east side), but a switch in the geographical layout of the residence halls is not necessarily destined to close the doors to the richness of such experiences.

There are many unanswered questions and issues regarding the proposal and its potential passage. For example, if more dormitories are built, more students could possibly be admitted to MIT. Of course, all of this requires a bit of planning by the departments, administration, and the planning office regarding faculty size, laboratory space, support staff, and so forth.

Also, the possibility of moving independent living groups to a new beacon of dormitories and houses: Would the MIT Corporation set out to buy the fraternity and sorority houses in Boston and offer new houses, in Cambridge, to the respective ILGs?

If new dorms are built, then MIT would be considerably less dependent on the Greek system for housing its students. Of course, this would put the fraternity system in more of a pinch, but if the MIT administration has ownership of the ILG houses, there is the possibility that considerable strain could be relieved from the entire system.

Without question, this proposal has great potential to forever change the face of student life and housing at MIT. No question, the issue of communication between administration, graduate students, undergraduate students, and alumni is significant. If this plan is carried out, however, it is entirely possible that there will be at least as much comfort, convenience, and as rich of a living experience for all students in the coming years. Then we can all think about freshman housing and whether or not any new dormitories built should be freshman dorms.

Michael K. Chung '94 is a former opinion editor of The Tech.