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Despite Hype, Other Schools' Grass Less Green Than MIT's

Column by Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Last weekend, I ventured to southeastern Virginia to see friends I went to high school with. While I had a great time,I've returned thinking about just how good life here at MITis. Not how bad things are, but how good things are.

Think about it:While we may always be griping about how academic programs (and classes), facilities, administrators, and everything else about life here at MITis bad, we really do have a lot to be happy about here at the Institute.

Granted, classes do take up a lot of time. But at least MITdoes give us a break from early classes - my friends who went to other institutions talked about their 8 a.m. classes, and one complained about a 7:30 a.m. lab. Now, they may not be up as late doing problem sets as MITstudents, but we could have those same time schedules as well. The Institute does take care of us in small ways.

Then there's the housing situation. Yes, some of the dormitories may be a little run down. Well, they may be more than a little run down. But, at the same time, at least they're well maintained on average, and at least here there are distinct alternatives through the fraternity system.

One of my friends who goes to school at Mary Washington College talked about the showers that were broken for months in a completely run-down hotel. Another friend who visited here last November from Virginia Tech said "Wow, you live in a hotel!" as she commented on how nice our dormitories as a whole were compared to those at their large, state-run institution. As a whole, our dormitories are well-maintained and clean, something which cannot be said for many of those at other places that I've spent time.

Although we may not admit it, we do as a whole have a really nice dining system in that we don't have to use it. It's nice, too, that Aramark food is at least somewhat edible, compared to what I head about food at other schools in some of the stories Iheard last weekend. While we may gripe day and night about all things dining, at least we aren't eating standard cafeteria food daily.

While it may not seem like it when we're here, we do get great on and off-campus job opportunities. My high school friends spent their job time on campus working to clean their dormitories or avoiding working in the dining halls. Here, meanwhile, undergrads work on projects ranging from developing new electronic devices to redefining transportation systems. We definitely have job opportunities that are more exciting and that pay better than those of many at other universities.

Finally, there's perhaps the most important matter of all - the strong communities that we do build here at MIT. Many of my friends were in the process of finding off-campus dormitory housing because their dormitories were decrepit or because they disliked the cost of university housing. "Nobody lives in the dormitories unless they're lazy," lamented one of my friends.

But here at MIT, most students live with the same group of people for four years. Whether it's a fraternity or a dormitory (or a floor of a dormitory), there's a much better opportunity to meet people and live in an environment that facilitates group activities and sharing. My high school friends were flabbergasted to learn that I lived in a living group where people went out to dinner on a whim, played games into the night, and in general just hung out. By far, my living group has been the most positive experience of my year here so far, and it's just one reason that I'm glad to have come here.

Sure, MITdoes have a lot of problems. The campus does look, well, institutionalized. A few trees, maybe a nice place to sit during the day would be dearly welcomed. Creating a more pleasant environment in general when dealing with people like the Registrar's Office or the Student Financial Aid Office would make life here a lot easier.

Classes could be better administrated. Sure, we do learn a lot, but it's really annoying to receive problem sets just a few days before they are due or to attempt to get involved in a class where there is no syllabus and no way to have a clue as to what will be coming up next week. But that's a problem anywhere, not just at MIT.

Activity funding and support could definitely be improved. While a few organizations manage to survive without significant Institute funding, many other small and large organizations can't make it on their share of the relatively meager for all activities. Planning and executing an event on campus here is a difficult process that takes away from academic time. These two things combined make it difficult for anyone to bring groups to campus - even the smaller schools had more interesting people on campus last year than MIT, some sponsored by student groups, others by college funding.

Overall, the experience here at MITis vastly different than that at most other schools. There are some things wrong with the Institute in general, but it's not as bad as many of us say or think it is. Griping is always a great way to relieve stress, but every once in a while we should step back to look at the bright side. While there are a million ways to improve MIT, we do have a great institution here inCambridge.