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Visiting Committee Holds Forum to Evaluate Deans


Tech File Photo
Rosalind H. Williams

By Venkatesh Satish
News Editor

The Visiting Committee on Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs held a student forum Wednesday as part of its evaluation of the Dean's Office.

About 15 students attended the forum, voicing a variety of concerns to the panel. Students addressed issues ranging from student activity funding to teaching quality.

Members of the committee took notes on the issues that were raised, periodically prompting students for input in specific areas.

The forum was part of the general evaluation of the Dean's Office. Visiting committees, which are used by MIT to study the effectiveness of administrative bodies, perform the evaluation every two years. They typically complete the process in two days, said Visiting Committee Chair DuWayne J. Peterson '55.

The first day of evaluation is spent studying the organization; the next day, committee members discuss the organization they are evaluating and make a preliminary report.

The recent reorganization of the Dean's Office required that members study more areas than in the past, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

The reorganization last fall by President Charles M. Vest moved many offices on the operations end of the Institute under the Dean's Office.

"The mission of the new office we're trying to create is an office that has a view of the whole education as the student experiences it. What really struck me about the open forum was that students were articulating concerns that were the same as those expressed in the Dean's Office," Williams said.

"It's a little mind boggling getting our hands on all of it. It is very helpful to get input from students," Peterson said.

The low turnout was somewhat disappointing, but "it could be interpreted positively because it means there weren't a lot of students with gripes to express. In the past, these open forums have been more contentious," Williams said.

Most of the students who attended were in leadership positions, Williams said. "One would hope for students who are not in leadership positions" to have attended, she said.

Students express funding concerns

At the forum, several students complained to the committee about a scarcity of funding for extracurricular activities.

Funding for athletics is inadequate, said Jessica L. Zysk '99, captain of the women's soccer team. "We don't have enough equipment and the turf is getting torn up. It's impossible to get time at Johnson [Athletics Center]. It's incredibly frustrating."

She noted that 75 percent of students participate in varsity, intramural, or club sports.

The Undergraduate Association receives over $200,000 in requests from student groups and doles out only $40,000, said UATreasurer Russell S. Light '98. "It particularly hurts smaller student groups. They can't even do a fraction of what they want."

The lack of funding especially hurts student publications, according to Jeremy D. Sher '99, former publisher of Counterpoint. "The cost of publishing is just astronomical. It is not an amount that student government can reasonably provide."

The lack of funding sometimes forces groups to charge fees so students can participate in events, said Andrew J. Rhomberg G, a Graduate Student Council member and European Club vice president. In some cases, the fees to students are in excess of $200.

There is "enormous resistance to an extra fee for student activities," since students feel that tuition should include such fees, Rhomberg said.

There is also a lack of space for student activities, Sher said. If members of the visiting committee toured Counterpoint's office in Walker Memorial, they would have seen chipping paint and back issues of the magazine ruined by water damage, he said.

The Walker tour was originally scheduled, but weather conditions canceled that tour.

Advising needs improvement

Some students said they felt there are problems with academic advising at the Institute.

"The only college year I had regrets from is my freshman year. I didn't know what information was out there," said Pardis C. Sabeti '97, president of the Class of 1997. Not having a freshman adviser who could present options to her contributed to the problem, she said.

"There's a basic assumption at MIT that if you're smart, you can do anything you want," including being an adviser, Light said. There are other factors that should be considered when choosing people for these positions, he said.

"In the graduate level, they don't understand the other aspects of life, outside the hours you spend in lab," said Eva Moy G, the GSC secretary.

Changing things at the Institute is very difficult because of all the bureaucracy one must consider, Light said. "You need to get everybody's agreement to change the system."

"I don't think there's been a lot of opportunity to get student input" on issues that affect students until recently, said Anthony J. Ives G. Getting feedback is important because MIT's composition is changing quickly, and more students are choosing careers in non-traditional fields.