Flawed Process Overshadows Result
With not so much a bang but a whimper, the Strategic Housing Planning Committee has released its much awaited report to the President. The SHPC membership should be congratulated for both their politically shrewd conclusions and for their thoughtful consideration, though not from the beginning, of student views. The report also lays a solid foundation for the administration's imminent housing deliberations. And fortunately for current residents, the SHPC recommends that Senior House remain an undergraduate dormitory - a recommendation certain to prompt an especially festive Steer Roast this year.
Three SHPC conclusions deserve special attention: crowding, class size, and the east-west debate. The SHPC recommendation that undergraduate "crowding" be eliminated merits further consideration rather than hasty acceptance. While the report acknowledges that many students choose to live in crowded rooms for economic reasons, it does not acknowledge the need for such a housing option. Nevertheless, the SHPC deserves praise for its intention to do away with the extreme crowding situation campus residents have experienced in the past.
As the SHPC correctly argues, there is more to the issue of class size than the loss or gain of tuition revenue with varying class size. While driven by tuition and housing considerations, class size has an underlying effect on everything from Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences offerings to classroom availability. The Institute should convene a group to carefully study and model the effects of class size on tuition revenue and housing.
The SHPC recommendation to keep Senior House an undergraduate dormitory is far from final, and the report does not completely address the issues necessary to make an informed decision. These and the other specific recommendations about Ashdown House are certain to concern undergraduate and graduate students alike. We hope that students will take the opportunity to discuss these issues in the weeks ahead.
With their first assignment complete, the nature of the SHPC itself warrants close scrutiny. Ironically, the same group that was surreptitiously charged by the administration to look at the future of housing comes close to calling for long-term student involvement in the planning process. We unequivocally endorse this idea. The SHPC could easily have avoided the derision and suspicion it encountered by choosing an open process rather than a cloak-and-dagger approach. The lesson to be learned is simple: students need to be involved from start to finish.
The fundamental issue underlying the SHPC saga remains. The administration believes that students are the vagrants of the academic community, incapable of contributing anything meaningful to "long-term" or "planning" decision processes. They describe students as short-sighted, self-interested, and cavalier when significant Institute resources are at stake. This attitude must be confronted and rejected. Surely, students do not come to MIT to be "professional" administrators. Yet to assume that we cannot - or worse, should not - think intelligently about important issues collides with the fundamental concept of an academic community.
In the final analysis, only one individual can acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and bring students into the fold: President Vest. If he chooses to do otherwise, the Institute can look forward to more issues that produce much heat and little light. As active students and future alumni, we hope he chooses wisely.