No Students Involved as New Dorm Goes Up
The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to President Charles M. Vest.
Surveying the proposed site for new graduate housing this morning, I was distressed to see construction equipment, temporary offices, and location markers on one of the blocks adjoining the Sidney and Pacific intersection. I could be wrong, but it looks like as with all other developments in this housing debacle, action has preceded communication with, let alone consideration of, the student body on this very important issue.
Ashdown House has been a graduate dormitory for over 55 years now, and the community and culture have been carefully nurtured over that time. Deciding over a couple of months to end it all with little or no student input seems hasty and imprudent, not to mention disrespectful.
After raising three more concerns about the proposed changes, I would like to urge you to more seriously consider involving student input before making your final decision, if in fact it has not already been made.
Eliminating central graduate housing does a terrible disservice to students with disabilities that impair travel. Ashdown's design poses one problem to some such students, in that although the lobby and elevator are independently accessible from the outside, there is no wheelchair ramp between them. But proximity to the campus and in particular to the lift at the Building 1 entrance make Ashdown the most convenient place for disabled graduate students to live.
Eliminating central graduate housing will greatly impair communication between undergraduate and graduate students. Last semester, one roommate and I were teaching assistants, and our Ashdown location provided his students with a much more convenient problem set drop-point than his Tech Square office, and allowed me to safely and easily distribute late-graded papers to students' dorms and fraternities from the Safe Ride hub, even at night.
Both of my roommates, other friends at Ashdown, and I frequently invite undergraduate friends over, and visit them in their dormitories. Segregating the campus by pushing graduate students to the periphery neglects the importance of such interactions which enhance the quality of life for everyone involved.
If carried out as planned, the conversion of Ashdown and closing of Huntington Hall will result in a net increase of about 370 spaces for undergraduates. If past housing expansions are any indication, this will not go primarily to decrease overcrowding, but to increase enrollment. Housing issues aside, it would be prudent to take into consideration full costs of such expansion, for though it stands to raise tuition revenues, it will further strain the academic resources of the Institute, like the many grossly-oversubscribed Humanities, Arts, and Social Science Distribution classes. Housing expansion since I have been here (use of Huntington, conversion of the old chaplaincy, and addition of two sorority houses) has merely exacerbated this strain.
I have presented many reasons to reject the Strategic Housing Planning Committee report's recommendations. I am certain that there are many reasons to accept them. But I am equally certain that the report did not contain some of the most important ones, such as the need to build on the Sidney and Pacific site to avoid somehow losing it, or the different means of funding new undergraduate and graduate housing which would make MIT lean toward the latter. Is this everything, or is there more?
My main point again is that students feel disrespected when such tremendous changes are made without communication. It was suggested last fall that January would provide ample time for discussion of these issues, but there has been no discussion to date, nor any initiative in that direction on the part of the administration.
To restore some of the respect which has been lost in this process, it would be very helpful to pull together a meeting between SHPC members, student leaders, and yourself, to hear student proposals on the issue, and to present in full the administration's position. Please take this into consideration before any decisions are made or further action is taken.
Adam C. Powell IV G