Administrators Meet to Discuss MIT's Long-Range Housing PlansBy Dan McGuire
Administrators are in the process of determining the current status of MIT's housing plans in preparation for larger future meetings with students.
The group met a week and a half ago will be meeting again next week.
Beginning late last spring, Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 asked that "all of the offices that have anything to do with housing" meet and discuss MIT's housing situation, said Associate Director of Planning, Robert K. Kaynor.
Several issues, including the housing shortage that MIT faces for both its undergraduate and graduate students, were at the top of the list for discussion.
The meeting included representatives from the Department of Housing and Food Services, the Office of Residence and Campus Activities, the Office of the Provost, the Planning Office, the Graduate School, and the Office of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs.
There were no students at the meeting, and there are no plans to have any at next week's meeting.
Kaynor called the meetings a "briefing session," a time to make sure that all involved parties are working from the same set of facts. The facts presented "aimed to be baseline information" for further discussions, said Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates.
The goal was to "bring everybody to the same page - where we are and where we're going," said Lawrence E. Maguire, who is the director of HFS.
"This is not a committee that will act," Bates said. The meetings are only "an information session," she said.
Administrators review plans
The meeting tried to bring administrators up to speed on the issues facing MIT's housing program. Graduate housing was near the top of the list.
Despite recent attempts to increase the number of units available, MIT is still able to house only 30 percent of its graduates, almost 1,300 beds shy of its goal of housing half of its students.
There is a "tremendous demand for graduate housing, more now than in the past eight years," Maguire said. Increasing enrollment in graduate programs at MIT and a tighter Cambridge housing market since the disappearance of rent control also contributed to the change.
Plans to address the shortage were discussed, including one that would help guarantee occupancy for a new apartment complex near Kendall Square. The oft-discussed plan to build housing in University Park also was brought up, Kaynor said.
Undergraduate housing proved to be less of a hot topic, but plans are still in motion, ranging from this summer's renovation of Senior House to a planned refurbishing of Baker House. The main focus was on determining exactly how to gather student opinions on the changes, Kaynor said.
While analysis of last year's survey of undergraduates is proceeding, additional information needs to be gathered on the attitudes of students in specific houses, he said.
Some things are known "anecdotally, but we don't have any hard data," Kaynor said."We expect that people like Senior House now that it has been renovated, but we have no hard data."
Student involvement to come later
Student input in the process has been limited to debriefing sessions that the group has given to graduate students after the meetings. No undergraduates have been involved.
Kaynor said that student input would come later in focus groups and in meetings with student groups.
The Graduate Student Council met with the Planning Office on Sept. 11 at the GSC's behest to get an update on the current housing situation.
The GSC asked for the meeting to determine "what was going on with graduate housing, what their plans were, and what we could to to help them out," said Jennifer A. Sullivan G, co-chair of the GSC Housing committee.
"I'd say it was useful to both parties," Sullivan said. "We got a sense of what they were trying to do."
Undergraduates have yet to be polled on the subject, Kaynor said. The group has not been approached by the Undergraduate Association, "although I imagine they're interested," Kaynor said.
"We're not trying to bring this to closure quickly," Kaynor said. "It's not this particular group [of administrators] that's going to decide what the questions" are to be addressed by the focus groups.
The group can use its findings as an initial step to figure what others think, Kaynor said. "We would certainly ask [student groups] what they wanted to know."
Group will not be SHPC
The creation of an administrative task force to examine issues in housing renewed fears among some that the Strategic Housing Planning Committee was being re-created.
SHPC presented a controversial proposal two years ago to close East Campus and Senior House and move undergraduates to west campus. Students were not consulted about the proposals, and their anger and organized reaction to the plan prevented the move from taking place.
"Nobody wants [SHPC] repeated," Kaynor said. "This is not a cabal" that will incorporate the ideas of SHPC, he said.
"Based on history, that's a legitimate worry," Kaynor said. But "I don't see anything like that at this point, and it won't happen if we do what we say we'll do."
"The effort here has been to start with the information gathering" process and propose some preliminary questions for consideration, Kaynor said.
Those questions will be answered later on by student services re-engineering teams like the housing and residential life teams.