At Last, A Productive Dialogue
Since the faculty meeting where Stephan L. Chorover, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, moved that all freshmen be housed on campus, the dialogue over housing on campus has exploded into a lively and serious debate. Indeed, housing issues seem likely to produce at least as much discussion as alcohol use, which is ostensibly the central topic of debate. We welcome this discussion: Change is long overdue, and now is the time to build consensus on what should be done.
Students and administrators alike have been keenly interested in continuing dialogue on the subject of housing. A forum on the subject organized by the Dean's Office was uncharacteristically well-attended. This increased attendance marks a dramatic shift from previous forums, which have been attended by only a handful of student government insiders. We hope that the administration and the faculty will make further efforts to solicit a wide range of student input. The changes that have been proposed will have a colossal impact on undergraduate life at MIT, thus the administration should leave no stone unturned in reaching out to those whose voices have not yet been heard.
Although there has been considerable discussion, much of the campus-wide debate thus far has been impeded by a lack of accurate, timely information. For example, rumors continue to circulate about a freshman dormitory, despite the fact that President Charles M. Vest effectively ruled out that option in his press conference on Oct. 1. The faculty motion as it stands only specifies that freshmen will live "on campus," and it does not discuss how residence selection or rush would change. Nor has any decision been made as to whether admissions will be reduced or upperclassmen removed from the dormitories to accommodate the housing change. Rather than simply stating that everything is up for discussion, the administration needs to inform the campus debate by supplying more information about what options are under serious consideration.
Although undergraduate housing has long been one of the most contentious and divisive issues on campus, we believe that the faculty's leadership on this issue is long overdue. For too long faculty have taken a backseat to administrators who, able as they may be, have proven incapable of effecting change. As a result, we have a housing system that is more an accident of history than a product of any purposeful design.
We continue to believe that housing all freshmen on campus will be a positive step toward improving the housing system and creating a more unified campus community. The current system has led to a divided campus, one in which students form allegiances to their living group only, and not to the wider academic community of which they are a part. Housing freshmen on campus will give students a more diverse social and academic experience, and will go a long way toward creating a unified MIT community.
Housing freshmen on campus is only a first step. No matter what changes MIT finally makes, faculty need to play a stronger role in the campus community, both in terms of leadership, and in terms of actually meeting and interacting with students outside the classroom. Paying lip-service to community involvement will not suffice; faculty need to do some serious soul-searching about what changes they can make in their own system in order to promote community involvement.
The current discussion about MIT's housing system has been a refreshing change after years of stagnation. We have every expectation that it will eventually lead to a better system and a stronger, more unified community.