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Happy Students Also Make Happy Alums

Column by A. Arif Husain
Opinion Editor

For the past three-and-a-half years, I've tried very hard not to jump on the Institute-hater bandwagon. An integral part of Nerd Pride is being studious enough to like this place but worldly enough to deny it. For better or for worse, thousands of bright young folks will call MIT home, and some fraction of them will eventually do so in the past tense. Like any rigorous training regimen, completion is the light at the end of the tunnel, and we all strive to reach it.

But the Institute as a university can't survive with alumni that grab their diplomas and run. A successful university must impart its students with a sense of membership and loyalty. Colleges were founded with the idea that learning is best done as a collective; to emphasize cooperation, not commiseration. MIT was recently marked down in national collegiate rankings largely because of poor alumni satisfaction. Whether it be truth or convention, the fact is, anyone who's been here for some time will surely have no trouble producing a hefty list of reminders that MIT really doesn't consider its student body a top priority. Last week, I got one more.

As the fifth of five children, it was kind of a pleasant moment a few weeks back when my family sent in the last payment for the last semester of the final son's college education. Loans and other finance aside, it was a token gesture that marked the end to a significant achievement on more than one count. We had met the demands of college, and now I needed only to complete my coursework.

Last week I got an interdepartmental letter. It was from the Bursar's Office, and it appeared that my account had not in fact been cleared. What was the damage? A grand total of 50 cents.

That's right. Just at the point when I might begin building pleasant thoughts about the undergraduate institution I would soon be leaving, accumulating last minute fodder for later nostalgia, and rethinking the benefits and sacrifices that were associated with my senior year high school decision that had brought me here, I got a subtle but significant reminder of MIT reality. It turns out that an expected scholarship payment on my account had been reduced by the amount of fifty cents, and so naturally I was asked to cover the difference.

In some ways, a 50-cent bill from the Bursar's Office is so trivial that I wouldn't bother to mention it. But perhaps for this reason it symbolizes a sort of pettiness and inconsideration to the end that I will never be able to divorce from this concrete schoolyard. Last year I was similarly irritated by a one-dollar bill, but since it was for my own library fine, it seemed a bit more tolerable.

Perhaps the most logical explanation is to blame the bill on the accounting system. Maybe no human being ever laid caring eyes on the request. Clearly, though, some human designed the system, and MIT ostensibly approved of the design.

Since this bill is on the order of one-ten-thousandth of a percent of my financial contribution to MIT, my gut tells me that somebody should have written it off.

Ultimately, the answer lies in the fact the MIT is first and foremost a corporation. When a corporation is owed money, be it 50 dollars or 50 cents, it gets its money. But when I decided to spend my undergraduate years here, I didn't do so with corporate aspirations in mind. As a soon-to-be alumnus, I foresee many years of donation requests from an MIT that will try to present itself as a short-term family which I've left and should help support. Unfortunately, efforts to that end should have been made now and not then. I don't know if my graduation will be held as a result of my current bill, but I'll probably end up paying it off well before then.

It's just too bad that last impressions stick with you. Maybe after some years I'll have the decency to reconsider, but for now, I've got a whole stack of 50-cent checks with Alumni Association written all over them.

Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on Tuesday.
Volume 116, Number 54.
This story appeared on page 4.

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