Waking Up to Reality
At a Wednesday press conference, President Charles M. Vest announced plans to build and open new dormitories within three to four years and to ban outright the use of Institute funds to buy alcohol for events where underage students will be present. Vest's decision to take a visible role in addressing issues central to students is laudable, and we hope that he continues to engage students in the same way he has engaged the press during the past week.
The changes President Vest has proposed are extremely important and each of them merits serious consideration on its own. At the same time, however, it is worth noting that many of the proposed changes are long overdue. Some of them, such as adding additional undergraduate housing, have been examined and discussed for years. It is regrettable that it took the tragic death of an MIT student, combined with enormous media attention, to force the administration to act at all. MIT needs to examine why it hasn't shown any leadership on these important issues in the past.
Undergraduate housing: We support the plan to build more on-campus housing for undergraduate students. In his press conference, President Vest hinted that the new housing might be funded through general Institute funds. This move will provide much-needed momentum to this important and long-overdue project.
Increasing the capacity of MIT's dormitory system will make it more flexible and less dependent on the fraternity system. The Institute should consciously avoid simply admitting more students to fill the new space; otherwise nothing will have really changed.
Ban on Institute-funded alcohol: Vest has ordered a ban on using Institute funds to purchase alcohol for events where underage students will be present. We believe that this ban should not be a permanent measure. A permanent ban would destroy any control MIT has over on-campus drinking. The ban would either drive alcohol consumption into private rooms or out to local bars. Surely this is not what President Vest intended when he announced the policy.
MIT needs to create an environment where students can drink safely. We believe that an increased level of oversight at parties can accomplish this goal. MIT's current alcohol policies and the related state laws are sufficient for this, MIT simply needs to enforce them. MIT should also require the same level of oversight at fraternity functions as it does in the dormitories. We are convinced, however, that a permanent ban will accomplish little and that it contradicts MIT's philosophy of encouraging responsibility through individual freedom.
Rush: Rush should be a major part of the discussion in the coming months. While tragedies involving alcohol could happen in any living group, there is reason to believe that the timing and pace of rush may result in poor decision-making. Radical change may be necessary; students and administrators should not shrink away from making those changes.
Supervision in fraternities: We support the proposal that MIT staff, such as housemasters and tutors, be placed in fraternity houses. Dormitories and some other living groups have found this supervision helpful; there is no reason why it cannot be fruitfully applied to the fraternity system as well.
The changes President Vest has proposed represent a serious effort to address the problems that contributed to the Krueger tragedy. We hope that the momentum will carry them forward to concrete, positive action.