HARL Team Missed Critical Issues
The housing and residential life re-engineering team recently concluded its six months of work with the release of its final report. Its job was to devise an implementation plan for a unified housing and residential system. Unfortunately, the team's report is thoroughly unsubstantive and comes nowhere close to looking at all the issues the team should have.
The HARL team seems to have used the idea of a general approach to issues as a way not to look at anything especially meaningful. The team's charge was broad, but if the group had planned to deliver only the vaguest of recommendations, it should have at least looked at the big picture - all aspects of housing, not just dormitory life. Instead, most significant issues were shunted under the category of "constraints" - things the group didn't touch. These limitations include Residence and Orientation Week, independent living groups, MIT's housing shortage, off-campus housing, and dining. Such issues are nothing less than absolutely crucial to any decent examination of housing and residential life, and their omission is quite glaring.
Instead, the report offers vapid goals like "communication" and a "team approach." While these may be good ideas, they are silly because they are so obvious, and it seems mind-boggling that it took the team half a year to generate such conclusions. The report's only specific examination deals with internal dormitory matters or questions of residential communities. Some of the recommendations in these areas seem reasonable; they include establishing standards for repair and maintenance of dormitories, linking diverse dormitories, and looking deeper into dormitory security issues - all worthy goals. But they are essentially generalizations that don't go far beyond the obvious. And some of them - like the idea of transforming the house manager position into an all-purpose partnership with the housemasters, graduate resident tutors, and house government - seem far from necessary.
One of the HARL team's original tasks was to examine a potential merger between the Office of Residence and Campus Activities and the Department of Housing and Food Services. But last fall's administrative reorganization - which put HFS under the Dean's Office, where RCA already is - made clear the future of a merger, pre-empting the HARL team's work. It is unfortunate that the team dropped its RCA/HFS focus and that the report doesn't discuss the merger directly, although some of the proposals suggest merged functions. Some of those recommendations - like the proposal that Physical Plant handle dormitory maintenance with the Dean's Office's supervision - may have some tricky implications considering the historic friction between some offices.
The crucial question that remains is how the major issues related to housing are ever going to be properly addressed in a collective manner. Big issues like MIT's housing shortage, dining, and R/O have many significant interconnections, and their long-term future needs attention. R/O in particular seems a matter that no one wants to deal with; plans for a separate re-engineering team to look at it were scrapped. Perhaps the new housing advisory committee which just began its work will be able to do justice to these issues where the HARL team failed.