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Housing Team Finishes Final Report, Suggests Improving Communication

By Jennifer Lane
Contributing Editor

In their final report, the housing and residential life re-engineering team recommended better communication within the residential system and the dissemination of information in the dormitories.

The HARL team was charged with the development of a plan to create a unified housing and residential system which includes buildings, operations, and programs.

The HARLteam's report, which was released on Jan. 14, did not make concrete recommendation for a merging of the Office of Residence and Campus Activities with that of the Department of Housing and Food Services. In October, both HFS was moved into the Dean's Office, which already oversees RCA.

However, placing the two offices under one office does not mean that they have become one, said Associate Dean for RCA Margaret A. Jablonski.

The team felt that such a decision "needed to be broader-based and involve more people," said Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates, who chaired the team.

Furthermore, "on the systemic level, there are re-engineering groups whose work will affect the larger structure," so examining the organizational structure was not appropriate for the HARL team, Bates said.

While RCAagrees with the recommendations set forth by the HARLteam, "the chances for success are greater with a combined housing and RCA department," which would include housemasters, graduate resident tutors, and graduate housing representatives, Jablonski said.

Currently, HFS supervises house managers while RCA oversees graduate resident tutors and housemasters.

"RCA feels that there needs to be a unified housing model that includes staff in the residence halls, RCA, and the housing operations group,"Jablonski said.

Implementing some of the recommendations, such as the consolidation of the assignment process, will require the portions of HFSand RCA work closer together, said Dormitory Council Vice President Jen Peltz '98, who was a member of the HARLteam.

"After talking to lots of people, it seemed beneficial to have certain parts of the offices work together, and it would be beneficial to students," Peltz said.

Others were glad that the team did not directly address such a merger. "Iwas worried that Iwould see [a recommendation to merge HFSand RCA] in the report, and Iwas glad Ididn't,"said Associate Professor of Political Science Charles Stewart III, housemaster of McCormick Hall.

For a meaningful merger, it would have to be formulated by a group with members drawn from the entire community with lots of input, Stewart said.

"The HARLteam as constituted was not that group,"he said.

Instead of concerning themselves with larger issues, the HARLteam focused in on specific concerns and issues, Peltz said.

Several working groups will now be formed which can deal with the larger issues, she said.

Team incorporates student input

The HARLteam met with many residents in the housing system, and incorporated the suggestions they received into their final report.

Overwhelmingly, students told the HARLteam of the need to improve the physical condition of the dormitories. "It was remarkably consistent" throughout the dormitories, Bates said. "This was a strongly felt need on the part of the students,"she said.

The team recommended that the Dean's Office work with Physical Plant to administer the physical aspects of the residential system in accordance with standards developed specifically for the residential system.

"We are convinced that even higher standards of behavior and performance are required in a living environment than in the workplace," the report said.

The team also recommended a closer working relationship between Campus Police and Night Watch, in accordance with students' security concerns, Bates said.

The team "definitely hit on the basic physical needs that students were experiencing," Jablonski said.

Team redefines house managers

The team recommended organizational mechanisms to promote better communication between housemasters, graduate resident tutors, house managers, and house governments, according to the report.

The house manager role would be restructured, and the position renamed in order to create an effective partnership between these groups of people, forming a stronger link between the residential system and the programmatic resources on campus, the report said.

The hope of the team was that this redefinition of the house manager role would provide better connections within the houses, Bates said.

The team is "saying that MIT needs to figure out how to de-emphasize business-like things and do more programmatic and academic things"within the residence system, Stewart said.

The plan is designed to help dormitories where students have little say in maintenance issues, Peltz said. "Involving more people in these decisions"will help the maintenance situation, she said.

The danger in this is that "the HARLteam underestimates the facilities in the residences that need to be managed,"Stewart said.

The Institute has consolidated many student resources, such as weight rooms and music rooms, in the dormitories as opposed to places like the Student Center, he said.

One concern is that, as house managers become more involved with programmatic issues, students would effectively have to become managers of these facilities, he said.

More information to be available

"We want a lot more information available within the residential system," Bates said.

The team recommended that a professional building audit of residences' condition, an inventory of space assignments, a review of the current crowding grid, a summary of annual expenditures and needs, cleaning standards and schedules, a comparison of accommodations for housemasters and graduate resident tutors, and a compendium of desk policies be assembled and disseminated in dormitories as soon as possible.

The team also recommended consolidating the residential assignment processes for placing students in residential communities and responding to student housing requests.

In line with this consolidation, they recommended creating an advocate for students in the residential system who would be responsible for guiding students through procedures and facilitate student problem solving in all aspects of the residential system.

The team felt that this advocate was necessary due to the complexity of the current residential system and policies, Bates said.

It was "easy for students to get lost in the process,"Peltz said.

The team emphasized that long range planning for the residential system should involve all elements of the residential community on a regular basis and recommended that the organization of the system be reviewed every five years to insure that it is performing as effectively as possible.

A new group is being assembled to develop a project plan that will achieve the HARLteam's goals.