Why Can't Buildings and Grounds Look Nice Year-Round?Column by Thomas R. Karlo
The last few weeks at the Institute have been a time of activity and change. If you didn't have the opportunity to be on campus, it's not apparent how much work has gone into preparing the buildings and grounds for today's Commencement activities. But for those of us who reside here during the rest of the year, it's been quite exciting to see our campus go from its normal state to the beautiful, shining place the seniors will graduate from this morning.
One of the questions that continually haunts many at MIT is why, despite being the top science and engineering school in the nation, and one of the very best overall universities, the Institute continues to suffer both from poor recognition among the public, and why MIT students and alumni are not as proud of their alma mater as the graduates of other top ranked universities. I think that the "Commencement clean-up" can offer an interesting explanation for this phenomenon.
Every year, the campus undergoes this transformation. Walls are painted, banisters varnished, and floors polished. Outside, beautiful carpets of sod are rolled out over the bare ground surrounding Institute buildings, and the yellow rope barriers used to corral the students during the year come down. Dorms are cleaned, elevators have their floors waxed so much your shoes squeak. Where I live, we even got new shower curtains, just in time for those of us preparing to leave for summer housing.
These changes are an indication of where the problem lies. While our school may dress up in Sunday best for Commencement, the rest of the year the campus falls into the shabby disrepair of an undergrad who's spent a few days too many in the Athena cluster. Not long from now, the hastily laid down sod will have been trampled back to dust, the carpets will be once again sticky in places, and the shine will wear off the campus. The Institute will become once again dull and gray.
Those who decide how and when resources are spent to maintain MIT should take a long hard look at what they're doing. Graduating seniors aren't going to have four years' memory of dodging the rats roaming Amherst Alley as they headed to their dorm at night erased so easily. Nor will returning alumni suddenly believe that the Institute has changed into a gleaming realm.
Making MIT a more livable place during the rest of the year might not increase Alumni donations. But it would allow MIT students to be proud not only of surviving MIT, but of being able to spend several years of their life here. And who knows - maybe if our campus was as well-maintained as other Cambridge universities during the year, we might increase the percentage of students who accept admission offers. And that, if nothing else, would be something worthwhile for the administration.
This August, the class of 1999 will arrive at MIT to begin their time at MIT. I sincerely hope that they will arrive on a campus that is all they expected and more. If given such a better environment in which to live and work, maybe they will consider their time at MIT less of a test of endurance than a time of opportunity.