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Margaret Jablonski Reflects on Three Years at MIT

By Dan McGuire
Executive Editor

"A lot of people who are administrators teach at one point, and vice-versa," said Margaret A. Jablonski, departing Dean for Residence and Campus Activities. "It's very common for practitioners, such as deans, to go to the faculty," she added.

Jablonski will be leaving MIT in about three weeks to do just that. She will be moving to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst to assume a faculty position at the School of Education. In fact, she is slated to teach five courses covering everything from the history of education to leadership theory to a class on women in education in the fall. "The last one may change," she admitted.

For the moment, Jablonski is spending her time wrapping up loose ends and open cases. "I'm working with [Dean for Student Life] Margaret Bates to sketch out what the next year should look like for staffing responsibilities," she said.

The administrative committees which Jablonski is part of will be distributed to others. "I gave [Bates] a list of 30 committee project teams that I'm on that need to be transitioned" to other individuals, she said.

Jablonski will remain with MIT part-time for the next academic year, returning a few days a month to work with the team planning the new Leadership Development Center and using what she learns from the project for her research. "Because I'm still coming in a few days a month, I'm not sure where I'll be physically housed."

Jablonski leaves her position with a good record, although she notes that her time at RCA has been busy. "I think it's always been in transition," she said. "It's only been in the last six months" that things have started to calm down.

Nevertheless, during her time she can point to some real achievements. "In the last year I played a very behind-the-scenes role in getting the gays, lesbians, and transgenders working group established. I'm confident that it will make a difference for gay and lesbian students at MIT," she said.

Jablonski reflects on MIThousing

Housing remains a delicate matter at the Institute, which does not have enough space to house all of its graduate and undergraduate students. It depends on independent living groups to provide additional undergraduate housing. Graduate students are responsible for their own housing and many must find housing off campus.

Graduate students may see some improvements as plans for a new graduate dorm continue to be debated. "I do think that we do still have a major problem of housing," Jablonski said. "We're moving forward with plans to build a new dorm for graduate students at Sydney and Pacific Street." Current plans call for the dorm to house up to 300 beds in the first building at the site.

Undergraduate housing sometimes proved more difficult, though, because of the constraints under which the the MIT housing system operates. Since the success of Rush will decide whether dormitories will be crowded or not and because MIT guarantees housing for all four years to incoming freshmen who want it, finding rooms has always been a logistical nightmare.

It is here that MIT has not fared entirely well. In the past two years, the number of crowded rooms has been on the order of 150. "I think we've reached a kind of equilibrium. I think we've kind of accepted the idea of having 100 to 150 dorm rooms crowded," she said. "I think it should be much lower."

Efforts to create additional single sex housing, a major problem two years ago, have met with much more success, however. In 1995, RCA estimated that it would need 100 additional beds to meet all of the requests. The only dorm equipped to deal with these requests was McCormick Hall, so Jablonski worked to open a dialog with other dormitory governments to find more single-sex beds.

"We wanted more single-sex suites. We were able to work with the Room Assignment Chairs to get single-sex housing to all who wanted it," said Jablonski.

The system gained some much-needed additional flexibility as a result of systemic changes. "You can opt for McCormick [Hall] but you can also opt for single sex housing. You may end up on a co-ed floor, but now you will be in a single sex suite," she said.

One of the most difficult issues has remained only partly resolved. Random Hall has been regarded as temporary housing by MIT since it opened almost 30 years ago, and how much MIT should invest in an admittedly temporary building has proved to be a tricky case of cost-benefit analysis.

Random Hall residents faced a number of perils over the past few years. In October 1995 sewer pipes overflowed, leaving sewage on the first floor and the trunk room. An unknown yellow substance also spurted from the sewer drain. In a meeting with officials, including Jablonski, held after the incident, many students criticized the way repairs were being handled, calling them haphazard.

"I think there were some basic maintenance issues that Physical Plant responded to once it was brought to their attention. It shouldn't have taken that level of dissatisfaction" to get a response, she said.

"I think that MITdoes have a commitment to Random for the next decade or so according to the plans I've seen," Jablonski said.

While the physical condition of some dormitories might need improvement, Jablonski said that she was pleased with the housemasters hired during her time.

"I've been responsible for the hiring and recruitment of housemasters. We've had five to six turn over" in the past three years, Jablonski said. "John M. Essigman of New House, Munther Dahleh of MacGregor, and Henry Jenkins of Senior House are examples of very committed faculty involved in" dormitory life.

Government issues pose problems

Student government proved to be a tricker issue as student governments underwent changes themselves.

Jablonski said that she had worked well with Association of Student Activities to resolve issues facing student groups. "I think we have a stronger relationship with ASA. For example, we got involved with them in the re-rooming of the Student Center and Walker. I think we came up with a reasonable solution."

She is also satisfied with the way the revised student accounts system handles funds. Bookkeeping errors amounting to $140,000 forced a revised and more accurate electronic bookkeeping system for student group accounts a year ago, and also helped lend weight towards allowing outside accounts for student organizations. "Student groups can have some confidence that their accounts" are being managed properly, she said.

Relations with the Undergraduate Association proved more difficult. "I think we have been working to accomplish what they want to accomplish. For example, the UA took the lead on getting an additional $40,000 from the Provost's Office,"Jablonski said.

The revived Dormitory Council proved to be an important player, although not necessarily a stabilizing one at all times. "There was a blip on the radar screenof dormcon becoming more active," said Jablonski.

In early 1996 Dormcon pulled out of Clearinghouse, the freshman tracking system used during Rush. The messaging system which replaced it last year was criticized by some as being slow and difficulty to use. The Freshman Messaging System to be used in the dormitories this year looks to be promising, but Jablonski said that she was still wary.

"I think that there will always be a healthy tension between dormcon and the [Interfraternity Council] given the way housing works at MIT. Our role is to resolve disputes the disputes that break out every year."

Party policy draws criticism

The revised party policy instituted in September 1996 followed the all-out large event ban instituted after the shooting of a Northeastern student outside Walker Memorial in December 1995. The policies have been meet with anger by some student groups.

Under the newest policy, large events at Walker may only be held if they meet a stringent list of conditions.

"We had to make some concessions because we live in an urban environment," said Jablonski. "I think that we've done the best we can at this point," she added.

"I know not all students at this point [agree] and I know we had to make unpopular decisions about the use of Walker," she said. However, "I did support the policy given the situation we're in."

"Throughout my tenure here I've had to make some difficult decisions. I've tried to be fair, but wherever you sit at MIT you may have a different perspective, and that's made it a challenge," Jablonski said.