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Fishbowl Should Not Have to Vacate Building 11 Location

Column by Douglas E. Heimburger
staff reporter

In the five or so months that I've been at MIT now, I've come to appreciate the Athena clusters. Located all over campus, they've allowed me to quickly check my e-mail between classes or send some messages to other people.

I've grown especially fond of the clusters since Ican always find one near where my classes are - especially on main campus, where it's inconvenient to go to the Student Center or the cluster in Building 37, the two largest clusters on campus.

Thus, the recent news that the Building 11 cluster - affectionately referred to as the "Fishbowl" - would be closing and moving to Building 12 seemed strange to me. Why would the administration be relocating one of the most used clusters of campus to a more inconvenient location on a side of campus already populated with many computer clusters?

The answer, as Iread on, was that Building 11 was going to be converted into Phase IIof the Student Services Center. Already, MITstudents can go to 3-123 and sign their scholarship checks, have transcripts printed on the spot, turn in registration forms, and take care of all kinds of other things that used to require a trip to Building E19, where the main offices of the Registrar and Bursar are located, or Building 5, where the Financial Aid and Student Employment Offices are located.

Phase IIof the center apparently will offer even more services. Most of the services of the offices will now be offered in the renovated Building 11.

Yet, is the convenience of the Student Services Center worth the movement of the Fishbowl to Building 12?Ithink not.

First, one must consider how many times a year the average MITstudent actually interacts with those in the offices consolidated into the Student Services Center. Last term, Imade only one trip over to building E19 to sign a loan check. While others may have made more, the truth is that students don't often need to interact with those in the Bursar's or Registrar's office.

Second, the impact on the Athena system as a whole has to be investigated. The Fishbowl cluster is only one of two clusters on the west side of the Great Dome within the main complex. The other cluster - in 1-142 - is already consistently filled to capacity. With the loss of the Fishbowl, there will be only 25 Athena workstations on the west side of main campus, compared to 60 on the east side of main campus with the new machines in Building 12. This doesn't even include the nearby clusters like the one in Hayden Memorial Library and the one opening this morning in Building 56.

Clearly, the movement of the Fishbowl cluster to Building 12 will adversely affect those who like me spend a lot of time on the west side of main campus. If the cluster in Building 1 is full, there are now fewer alternative options. All of them require a long walk to an inconvenient cluster.

So do the advantages of the new and improved Student Services Center outweigh the loss involved with moving an extremely busy Athena cluster?It's clear that they don't. Students will be inconvenienced on a daily basis in order to centrally locate services that students may only need a few times a term.

Iwouldn't feel so strongly about this issue if the administration had followed through with its initial promises to relocate the Fishbowl cluster to a nearby location. Building 12 isn't anywhere near Building 11 except in numerical order.

I'm also dismayed that the administration didn't find a better space on the Infinite Corridor. The Fishbowl cluster now serves as an easy place to duck in and check e-mail while just passing down the hall. I doubt that the Building 12 cluster will serve the same purpose. It will be just one more computer cluster in an area already densely populated with Athena terminals - the Building 56, Building 4, and Building 2 clusters are all extremely close to the site.

It's clear that the limited advantages of the new and improved Student Services Center do not outweigh the significant disadvantages of the movement of the Fishbowl cluster. Not only is it a historic place on the MITcampus, but it is also one of the most useful places for students.

Douglas E. Heimburger is a freshman who is growing increasingly wary of the mounds of junk e-mail he receives every day.