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Campus Athletics Facilities Should Not Be Exclusive

A. Arif Husain

Column by A. Arif Husain
Opinion Editor

On Monday, President Charles M. Vest announced plans to construct a new athletic facility to be built next to the Student Center, where the barbeque pits now stand. The $18-million facility is set to open in the fall of 2000 and will boast an Olympic-sized swimming pool, seating for 450 people, and a health fitness center, among other amenities. Honestly, I couldn't be happier. I'm only disappointed that I won't be around to take advantage of it.

What bugs me is the biting duplicity of the Institute's commitment to athletics on this campus. Vest said in his announcement that, "the quality of life of students, faculty, and staff will be significantly enhanced by this major improvement in our athletic facilities."

Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams recognized that "athletics and recreation are such an important part of [students'] lives" and are "absolutely necessary for mental and physical well-being."

The fact that four physical education courses and a swim test are graduation requirements would corroborate these sentiments. But why, then, are we charged a petty 20 bucks each year to take advantage of our own facilities? By maintaining the convention of an athletics card, MIT is really conveying mixed emotions.

The biggest argument for division of fees is to allow for the discretion of the payer. When I buy a car, for example, Iam forced to buy an engine and a chassis, but I can leave out the sunroof and the floor mats if Ichoose. Similarly, our tuition serves as the basic payment for all of the necessary services that constitute the MIT experience. It goes to cover everything from faculty salaries, to buying erasers for the Registrar's Office. It would be silly and impractical to have a separate fee for each individual service that the Institute offers. Should Ibe exempt from the library fee if I have never checked out a book? Of course not, since Irecognize this as a basic function of an educational institution.

By excluding athletics from the core of essential services covered by tuition, the Institute is saying that athletics are an option - unnecessary and avoidable - a diametrically opposite view to the deep-rooted commitment we have heard expressed this week. The Institute is selling all of us a car with no front doors, and many of us are buying into it.

The need to guarantee athletics privileges to every student was last questioned about four years ago, when the Undergraduate Association then held a referendum to decide on a proposed student life fee. The fee was to be subtracted from the set tuition and itemized on the Bursar's bill. It would then be subject to the control of the UA Council, who planned to use it to fund a number of student services, among them the athletics card fee.

The then Director of Athletics Royce N. Flippin lauded the proposal, citing the need for undergraduates to have "automatic access to all athletic facilities." Flippin said that "too many [students] forget, decide to circumvent the system, or honestly cannot afford the out-of-pocket 20-dollar cost." He said that the potential dishonesty created by the system had been a financial and moral concern for many years and that we are "putting our students in an unfortunate position when we tempt them to sneak or cheat."

Having participated in three seasons of intramural ice hockey and taken full advantage of the ice rink, swimming pool, indoor track, and basketball courts since 1993 - all with a single expired athletics card - I would have to agree. But Ihave no reason to feel guilty.

To me, the athletics card is an outdated and ineffective device. It should be done away with well before the lofty opening of our new swimming center in four years. The cost of providing students access to athletics facilities should be absorbed by our yearly tuition, proving that athletics are in fact a priority. Like any other facility on this campus, a student identification should be the only requirement for entering Du Pont Gymnasium, Johnson Athletics Center, or the Alumni Pool.

In addition to the proposed multi-million-dollar swimming center, the Institute is currently renovating a large section of west campus tennis courts, has plans to renovate the Alumni Pool, and is discussing major changes to the Briggs Field House and Rockwell Cage. It is hard to consider these things and at the same time, say that athletics have not been addressed. Regardless, it will be a pathetic day indeed, after so much has been invested in building and bettering student athletics facilities, when each and every student on this campus is not qualified to enter them.