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RCA, HFS Merger Would Consolidate Student Services

By Dan McGuire
Associate News Editor

A draft proposal released early this month by the re-engineering effort's Student Services Assessment Team suggests that the Institute should merge its departments of Housing and Food Services and the Office of Residential and Campus Activities.

The plan, if accepted by the re-engineering steering committee, will put the department responsible for maintaining dormitories and the department that manages dorm activities, floor tutors, and house masters under one roof.

At the moment, though, the plan remains in draft form. "We've come up with a list of recommendations and we're taking it out to the community to get feedback," said Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman. One needs to think of it as a "point of departure for conversation," he added.

The recommendation is a draft and not a final decision, said Anand Mehta G, a member of the Assessment Team. It is "being discussed with the community to figure out whether it is the right idea and whether" to continue with the process, Anand said. "The decision to combine HFS/RCA... is not a done deal."

Plan to Increase Efficiency

The move is intended to remove what the team calls "shadow processes," the redundant work that both departments work on, said Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Margaret S. Enders, who is a member of the team.

"Everybody's keeping a lot of information in parallel," Enders said. "Different offices have built up databases over the years and haven't realized that other people are doing the same thing," she said.

MIT is "virtually alone among major universities in how it separates operational policy from educational" policy, said McCormick Hall Housemaster Charles Stewart III.

In each dormitory, the house manager reports to HFS Head Lawrence E. Maguire, "a business operation," Stewart said. At the same time, the housemasters report to RCA, "an educational operation."

"It would be better if the people responsible for education could have a more direct relationship with those responsible for the maintenance of facilities," Stewart said.

"The idea does have some merit," said John Hollywood '96, Chair of the Undergraduate Association's Student Life Committee. "The first person who can mandate an agreement between a housemaster and house manager is President Vest himself."

"I'm not sure a full scale merger" is the best way to go about that, Hollywood added.

This is "not to say that HFS or RCA is doing a bad job, but they could do a better job if their operations were working together," Enders said. "It's not an indictment of either office."

The relationship between house managers and housemasters are based on informal, personal relationships, Stewart said.

"As we try to think about adding housing there isn't a natural way to bring together the concerns of faculty members with the people who would actually go about building it," Stewart said.

"The mission of the house is educational," Stewart said. "It's not a place to put bodies in boxes to sleep at night it's a place where the education of MIT continues."

Merger might induce tensions

HFS currently comes under the control of the Vice President for Operations while RCA is managed by the Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams. The issue of who controls the new department has not been decided.

"It's probably useful to not make any assumptions about where this reorganized process will fit in the organizational structure at MIT because first and foremost you have to look at the work that needs to be done," Immerman said. "If you organize the stake-holders in ways that maximize the functional relations between and among them, it's almost irrelevant where it reports organizationally."

"There's always difficulty in merging offices one would naturally imagine there would be some tensions," said Stewart. "There's no reason they can't be resolved over time. Part of it really is learning to appreciate what the other side does. It's not an insurmountable issue."

"The big problem that I have with this is that these are two separate agencies that have been apart for a long time," Hollywood said. "They have very different philosophies."

Lack of Student Input Cited

"We were not included in the [HFS/RCA re-engineering] process at all," said Dormitory Council President Dhaya Lakshminarayanan G. "They had focus group meetings, but in our minds those are just to sell the ideas you already have to people," she said. "Dormcon is unique in that we have expertise in areas of housing it's odd that we were not adequately involved in the" decision process, she said.

Hollywood countered that when the re-engineering team "was deciding which options it was going to choose I didn't see a lot of community involvement," he added.

"We've had a meeting with the GSC," said Mehta. "Representatives from the Dormcon and UA have heard these recommendations and have heard or been invited to" meetings about the topic.

"If one thing frustrates us it is that students couldn't come because they were too busy," Enders said. "We were trying really hard to make sure that" people weren't left out.