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Vest Outlines MIT's Strategies On Alcohol, Housing Problems

Gabor Csanyi -- The Tech
President Charles M. Vest

By Jennifer Lane
Editor in Chief

President Charles M. Vest announced his plans for the community to respond to the death of Scott S. Krueger '01 in a press conference on Wednesday.

Vest outlined plans to restrict the use of alcohol, build more campus housing, and begin a campus-wide discussion of alcohol usage.

"It is my personal opinion that the most important issues we are discussing are binge drinking and underage drinking," Vest said.

Vest identified the month of October as a time to come together on this issue and to make headway on the policy implementations. The administration will "devote considerable amounts of time, effort, and thought during the month ahead" to the issue of alcohol on campus, he said.

Vest will also work to establish a student/faculty seminar to study the psychological, social, and physiological aspects of binge drinking among college students. He named Professor of Biology and Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp co-chair of this seminar. The second co-chair has yet to be named.

Vest pledges new housing

Vest called for the administration to immediately begin the planning, design, and construction of additional undergraduate housing on campus.

This is a "great idea something that we need in the Institute," said Dormitory Council President Ashesh P. Shah '98.

However, the idea is long overdue, Shah said. We have "been trying to convince the Institute to build" for a while, he said.

"It always has been our long-term plan to increase amount of housing on campus," Vest said.

Both the reorganization of the Dean's Office, geared towards providing a more comprehensive picture of the lives of students, and the establishment of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning impelled the administration towards a closer examination of housing, and, ultimately, the decision to build more, Vest said.

"I have accelerated that process," he said.

Vest cited financial limitations as one reason that such housing construction had not been as seriously considered previously.

In the next two years, however, MIT will be moving into a major capital campaign, Vest said. Administrators will be designing the focus of that campaign to improve the quality of the MIT campus for students, Vest said. New dormitory construction could then be an attractive part of that campaign, he said.

Fraternity life linked to housing

By announcing now to begin new undergraduate dormitory construction, Vest publicly linked a problem with a freshman pledge with the lack of undergraduate housing.

Vest said he recognized this link after he "received enormous reaction that calls our attention to the fact that there are pressures on students" generated by the housing system. This brought issues of dormitory crowding and Residence and Orientation Week onto the table, Vest said.

Issues of housing seemed to "naturally well up in people's minds" after this tragedy. While Vest said he "didn't want to draw a causal link" between the issues, it was clear to him that they were related in some ways.

However, he "did not think that the fact that we we had more space on campus would have avoided a tragedy like this."

"This could have happened anywhere," Vest said.

This incident has "forced me to think of the student perspective," Vest said.

Despite new dormitory construction, the Institute has "always tried to provide freedom of choice" in the housing system, Vest said, and he anticipated that the system of fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups would be part of housing at MIT far into the future.

As "many of the [fraternity]residences are getting old" the Institute may consider moving houses into Cambridge or onto MIT property, he said.

MIT formulates new programs

The major focus of the administration's response, however, is binge drinking. "Ihope we don't defocus from that," Vest said.

Vest plans to draw together a group of faculty and students, co-chaired by Sharp, to meet continuously throughout the semester to discuss issues of binge and underage drinking.

National experts will be invited in to lead some sessions, Vest said. The goal will be to "try and produce some new educational programs and materials" that may be used nationally, he said. We "have to find a way to educate that is meaningful to students."

Additionally, at the upcoming meeting of the Association of American Universities, a group of 56 leading research universities, Vest will lead a discussion of alcohol on college campuses.

Vest hopes for continued dialogue

Vest faces a challenge in continuing the dialogue on campus to completion of the various projects.

"It is human nature that some shattering event may occur" that causes people to become motivated, but people then lose interest, Vest said.

However, with the planned student-faculty seminar, the Institute is taking a different approach in this instance, he said.

By working to have a product at the end that can be taken to other universities, and by "involving people who aren't necessarily normally involved,"Vest said he hopes the dialogue will be made more productive.

Frank Dabek contributed to the reporting of this story.