Vest, Parents Discuss AlcoholBy Venkatesh Satish
Scores of parents attended events held as part of Family Weekend, learning about the Institute and voicing their opinions about student life.
In all, about 450 families and over 1,500 people participated in the program.
The most important event of Family Weekend this year was a discussion with President Charles M. Vest held on Saturday morning. Vest addressed a packed 10-250 on parental concerns, focusing on the aftermath of the drinking death of Scott S. Krueger '01.
After briefly outlining the steps that have been taken committing the Institute to building new undergraduate housing and prohibiting the use of Institute funds for the purchase of alcohol for events where people under the age of 21 were present, Vest opened the floor to questions.
Parents discuss alcohol with Vest
Concerned parents voiced their concerns and opinions about a range of issues related to alcohol abuse and the format of Residence and Orientation week.
"We believe it is important to get more adult oversight in the houses," commented one parent.
"We can't implement a police state on campus," Vest said, further noting that a cultural change would be needed to really solve the problem. He also said that the percentages of drinkers and binge drinkers are lower at MIT than the average percentages at colleges across the nation.
Another parent said that rush was too short and that residence selection was conducted in the absence of relevant information about different living groups. "I think MIT can provide a better picture of the different living groups,"he said.
Discussion about rush "has had an anti-[Independent Living Group] tone," but action being taken now by the Interfraternity Council leadership is changing the nature of the discussion, Vest said.
At one point, an audience member asked a question about the financial impact skimpy rush results would have on living groups, and that proposals to lengthen rush might have that effect.
"We should not let these short-term economic difficulties get in the way"of making decisions on an alcohol policy, Vest said in response to the question.
At that point, Vest turned control of the discussion over to a panel consisting of Rosalind H. Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education; Carol Orme-Johnson, housemaster of Bexley House and assistant dean; Iddo Gilon '98, Interfraternity Council president; and Professor of Chemistry Robert J. Silbey, co-chair of the task force on student life and learning.
Student communities need to be strengthened, Orme-Johnson said. "We have to rely on other people that are around when [some] students try alcohol," she said.
The IFC is dealing with the situation well, Gilon said. "We're not shrugging things under the rug. There are problems and it's obvious we need to communicate our efforts."
After a number of parents complained about not being kept informed of events, Williams said that "there is a need for more information and we've heard that [suggestion] repeatedly."
"We are not doing a good job giving out information to the freshmen" during rush, Gilon said.
Parents speak out
Parents voiced varying opinions on the discussion guided by Vest and the panel.
"I think they are concerned, but they don't have the answer. There has to be a general attitude change," said Ken Meredith, father of Kara S. Meredith '00.
"As far as how [the plan] looks, it looks good. Whether they follow through" is a different issue, said Steve Kostoulas, father of Evangelos Kostoulas '01.
"The most important thing is to keep in touch with our child and see how he's doing,"said Despina Kostoulas.
"I was very impressed with the faculty representative (Silbey) and the openness of the president (Vest) and the administration," said Peggy Demon, mother of Ronald S. Demon '99.
"I think it's unfortunate that we have to focus on the negative. We see the need for more character-building and maturity," said Linda Beland, mother of Christopher D. Beland '00. "I'd hate to see us throw all our freshman on campus."
"I have confidence my son is not going to be led into drinking, so this is not an issue for me," said Lois Britton, mother of Gerald R. Britton '01.
"I thought the issues [discussed] were on target and well thought out," said Catherine Lee, mother of Matthew Lee '00. "I'm confident that they will look into the issues."
Other events generally go well
Various departments held seminars on topics ranging from image-guided surgery to the economics of the weight-loss industry.
"I think it was very successfulŠ the parents were very receptive," said Rosemarie Resnik, director of the geographic program for the Alumni Association.
"Their interaction at the panel discussion with Vest was very positive and I think the parents felt that the president and the administration were listening to them," Resnik said.
While parents were generally satisfied, a number of them felt there were too few events on the weekend and that working families were neglected by the schedule, Resnik said.
There were a few minor glitches in scheduling. For instance, there was a scheduling problem with one of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science seminars and some parents were confused about its time, but "the program itself was fine," Britton said.
"It's tough to coordinate all of the [events] because you have to get the cooperation of all the departments," Resnik said. Overall, parents were happy with the weekend, she said.
Family Weekend was "very informative. I particularly liked the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science seminar about image-guided surgery. They talked about the new building, which was impressive," Demon said.
"It's a very good weekend to gather information and for parents to network," Demon said.
Betty Graham, mother of Brian B. Graham '99, said she attended the Family Weekend Concert held Friday. "The level of energy and dedication was incredibleŠ the musicianship was outstanding."