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Report Suggests Ashdown Be Used for Undergrads

Thomas R. Karlo--The Tech
Robert M. Randolph

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

The Strategic Housing Planning Committee recommended in a report released Monday that Senior House remain an undergraduate dormitory and that Ashdown House, currently a graduate dormitory, be converted for undergraduate use.

The committee also recommended that the administration immediately begin building a dormitory for graduate students at the intersection of Sidney and Pacific Streets near University Park.

"We felt that these recommendations made sense under certain premises," said Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Robert M. Randolph, who chaired the committee.

The recommendations met with dissatisfaction from the Ashdown chairman and the chairman of the Graduate Student Council Housing Committee.

The level of crowding in the undergraduate housing system was the primary and driving concern of the SHPC, Randolph said. A stress on other priorities, such as an emphasis on an exclusively undergraduate west campus or on graduate student housing, would produce different scenarios, and therefore different recommendations, he said.

The committee's report has gone to President Charles M. Vest. Vest said last month he will make a final decision about the short-term plans for the dormitories by the end of the Independent Activities Period.

"I have confidence that the president will take the recommendations seriously," Randolph said. Along with the specific conclusions of the report, the committee presented Vest with a larger list of options that could also be considered, he said.

Dean for UESA Arthur C. Smith directed the committee last fall to look "very seriously at the idea of having all undergraduates live on west campus."

The committee was originally concerned with general housing issues but suspended its work to address the pressing concerns with overcrowding and Senior House renovations, Randolph said. The committee will now return to its original work and plans to issue a broader report on housing by March, he said.

Ashdown chairman dissatisfied

One of the more likely courses of action the committee suggested would have 200 spaces in Ashdown converted for undergraduate use next year, Randolph said. These spaces would be freed through attrition of current residents, he said.

The following year, the full 420 spaces in Ashdown would house undergraduates, Randolph said. The exact details of the plan depend upon whether Senior House is renovated this summer or next summer, he said.

Thomas H. Burbine G, Ashdown chairman, expressed disappointment with the report. "It seems like the graduate students are being sacrificed for the undergraduates in this report in many different ways," he said. His concerns focused on the safety and community of the new dormitory.

The proposed dormitory at the Sidney and Pacific intersection would take at least three years to construct, Randolph said.

The Sidney and Pacific site is an unsafe area for a dormitory, Burbine said. "We've talked to MIT administrators and they are under the impression that that area is going to become much safer in five years," he said. However, many graduate students "feel that we are going to be placed into an unsafe area of Cambrige."

"Except for first-year students in Tang and the small number of women in Green Hall, on-campus single graduate students will have the choice of Edgerton [Hall], which is deemed too dangerous for Safewalk to serve, or the new building, which would be in an even more dangerous area of Cambridge," said GSC Housing Committee Chair Joseph J. Bambenek G.

"The current arrangement would appear to discount the desire of graduate students for a convenient location," Bambenek said. A convenient location is the number one housing concern of graduate students according to a GSC survey to be released next week, he said.

"Ashdown is a wonderfully functioning community for graduate students," Randolph said. The administration hopes to recreate the best parts of it in the new dormitory, he said.

However, Burbine said that graduate students "really have no faith that MIT building this dorm is going to recreate Ashdown's community."

"The Ashdown residents gain nothing by this move at all," he said. "There is a big chance the community is going to be destroyed."

"It would be sad to see the traditions of Ashdown lost," Bambenek said. However, "it is heartening that the committee recognizes that there are desirable aspects of the community worth recreating in a new facility," he said.

Throughout its work, the committee it has been unresponsive to graduate students, Burbine said. "All contact we've had with the administration was initiated by the graduate students," he said. "They never asked us what they thought."

Report favorable to Senior House

"The recommendations that the committee came up with are very good for our group," said Elizabeth A. Stoehr '96, a member of the Senior House/East Campus Action Committee.

Students in Senior House and East Campus will continue to push for an undergraduate presence in both of the dormitories, Stoehr said.

The committee recommended that student input on both renovation and new construction be incorporated via client teams. "I truly hope that they follow up on that," Stoehr said. "I think it made a difference in the sense that now they seem to value student input more."

Overall, the level of student input in the committee's work was not satisfactory, Stoehr said. "The reason we had the student input that we had was we organized ourselves," she said. "We didn't even know what was going on, and we weren't supposed to know what was going on."

"What's important to us is that we have some sort of voice and involvement" before the final decision is made by Vest, Stoehr said.

"I was very happy with what they were saying about enhancing the quality of student life," she said. "I hope they'll take that seriously and really ask for student involvement to enhance the quality of life for future students."

Crowding as primary influence'

"Crowding as an issue at the undergraduate level is a primary influence on our recommendations," the committee wrote in the report. Given normal enrollment levels and a normal rush next fall, the crowding level could approach 200, well above the "pain level" of 135 defined by Smith, the repof undergraduate housing rather than eight, providing no housing for transfer students or fifth year undergraduates, and reevaluating graduate housing.

Options for improving the capacity of the graduate housing system include building new housing immediately at the Sidney and Pacific site, adding a second tower to Eastgate, and reconfiguring the "efficiency" apartments in Westgate Tower, the committee wrote in the report.