The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 73.0°F | Overcast

MIT Card Changes Prompt Concerns

By Stacey E. Blau
Editor in Chief

The Department of Housing and Food Services is in the process of responding to concerns over changes made to the new MIT Card, which is valid starting today.

The new card features two major changes this year. The word "student," which previously appeared on the front face of the card, was taken off. The expiration date on the card, which used to be one year from the date it went into effect, was extended to four years, until Sept. 26, 2000.

Several students called to complain about the omission of the word "student," said Lucy Ann Barrera, manager of the MIT Card Office.

While the card, with its unique silver background, is recognizable as a student card at MIT, people outside MIT might not recognize it as such, perhaps causing problems for students who use it as identification or for special student discounts, she said.

Director of Housing and Food Services Lawrence E. Maguire made the decision to take off the "student" tag last year. The idea was to remove any extra, unnecessary information on the card because "a clean card makes sense," Maguire said. Less information on the card means more privacy and security if the card falls into the wrong hands, he said.

"I don't know if it was a conscious decision in hindsight," Maguire said. "Looking at it now, it probably makes more sense to have student' on it" because of the identification benefits, he said.

"We realize students are a special case," Barrera said. "It was a mistake."

HFS will not be reprinting the cards to put the word "student" on them. Reprinting 10,000 cards would take two to five weeks and cost a great deal of money, Barrera said.

Instead, HFS is offering students the opportunity to have the word "student" printed on the back of the cards they already received. Students can go to E23-200 to have the printing done for free, Barrera said. The printing takes only a few minutes, she said.

The batch of cards printed for next year's incoming class will have the word "student" on them, she said.

Expiration date extended to 2000

As part of a pilot program intended to save money and manpower, the expiration date of the MIT Card was extended from one to four years.

It costs "more than $30,000" to print the usual run of 10,000 cards every year, Maguire said. The additional work required to assemble the information that goes on the cards' magnetic strips is a substantial job to do every year. "It's a big drain," he said.

"We're trying to cut down on costs," Barrera said. "We're trying to see whether it will be effective or not."

Maguire said that the cost-cutting effort was not a result of the re-engineering process.

If the plan works, future cards issued will also be valid for four years, Barrera said.

The cards may wear out before the four years are up, but "if we see that there's natural wear and tear," students can replace cards for free, Barrera said. Currently, MIT Cards cost $15 to replace.

Even though the date on cards says that the cards will expire in four years, the magnetic strips on the cards - where much of the card's personal information is contained - will be deactivated once students leave MIT.

There is a concern that students might still use the card for student discounts even after they graduate, but Barrera is not worried about it. "We thought about that," she said. "We like to think that students are honest."

The only reason that the change in the expiration date was not made sooner was because "not all departments are hooked up to the Student Information System," making it more difficult for them to gain access to the most updated information, Barrera said.

"We've had to deal with the Registrar's Office" to get that done, Barrera said.

Campus Police are not tied to SIS, for example, Barrera said. "I don't know how they're going to handle it."

Chief of Police Anne P. Glavin expressed some concern about both the ambiguous expiration date and the lack of student designation on the card. When an officer asks to see identification, "it may be slower for us sometimes" to verify information, she said.

"It's not a crisis issue for us," Glavin said. But "it doesn't make our job any easier."

There were no other glitches with getting the cards out that were especially out of the ordinary this year, although the "the U.S. mail was a a lot slower than we had anticipated," Barrera said.

An additional 50 or so cards sent through interdepartmental mail were returned because of errors in the addresses, she said.

"It's hard," Barrera said. There is "a whole lot of information to put into the system, and it doesn't happen overnight."

New functions may be in store

This year's MIT Card has no new functions added since last year, but there may be some changes in store down the road, Maguire said.

Currently, the card is used for dining plans, use of campus libraries, and access to dormitory entrances, parking lots, and various buildings on campus.

Compared to the number of services other schools offer on their identification cards, MIT is in the "upper middle," Maguire said.

Future possibilities for the MIT Card may include linking it to bank functions and allowing it to be used for supermarket purchases, like a credit or debit card. "This stuff is all very exciting," Maguire said.

Currently, the MIT Card Steering Committee and the MIT Card Privacy Committee are looking at a number of security and privacy issues. Any new application must be looked at before it is made part of the card.

Currently, the issue of whether or not the card can be used as collateral for items loaned by dormitory desks is still being examined.

HFS instructed dormitories to stop accepting the card as collateral in April 1995. But while dormitories officially are not supposed to ask for the card, Maguire acknowledged that many still do. "It's a hard thing to mandate," he said. "We need a better system, no question."