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Faculty Housing Motion Not Binding for Institute

Cornelia Tsang -- The Tech
Chair of the Faculty Lotte Bailyn

By Zareena Hussain
Associate News Editor

It has been nearly a month since Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Stephan L. Chorover brought to the floor of the faculty meeting a motion reading, "It is the sense of the faculty that commencing academic year 1998 all freshmen should live on campus."

While Chorover's motion has demonstrated significant support for the existing system among students, it has also raised the question of how much power the faculty has in this situation.

The motion actually is not binding, said Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education, Rosalind H. Williams. "It would be a statement of faculty opinion," she said.

Ultimately, it is the administration, not the faculty, who decides upon issues relating to undergraduates outside the purview of academics, she said.

"The decision, of course, gets made at the administrative level," said Chair of the Faculty Lotte Bailyn.

President Charles M. Vest would be one of the primary decision makers, Bailyn said.

"A sense of the faculty' motion would be data that he [Vest] would use in making the decision," Bailyn said.

"It doesn't bind anyone to anything," she said.

This sentiment was reiterated Wednesday night at the student-faculty forum by the moderator, Dean for Undergraduate Curriculum Kip V. Hodges, PhD '82.

"Even if the faculty vote it's just a suggestion," he said.

The MIT Corporation is also unlikely to become embroiled in this issue, Williams said. "The corporation does not micromanage," Williams said.

The Corporation is "looking at the large picture, not fine-level decision-making."

However, disapproval by the corporation of any administrative decision will be made known to the administration in the corporation's regular review of Institute-related business, Williams said.

But as yet, "the corporation hasn't gotten involved," she said.

Faculty opinion still considered

While any motion of the faculty on the subject of undergraduate residence is nonbinding, their input is taken into account.

It's "an important statement of the faculty," Williams said, and "would obviously be taken into account."

The faculty "should take a leadership role in saying what the educational goals of MIT are, set a general set of educational goals for residence halls, and turn to Dean's office to implement these" goals, Williams said.

Housing questions not new

The idea of housing freshmen on campus is not new and has been killed in the past because of student opposition.

In 1989, when the ad-hoc Freshman Housing Committee came out with its report, it recommended that all freshmen be housed in dormitories.

The report also called for freshmen to be randomly assigned housing among upperclass students, rush be deferred to spring term, and sophomore, instead of freshman housing, be decided upon by lottery.

There were "two quite separate motivations" for commissioning the Freshman Housing Committee, then-President Paul E. Gray '54 said.

One concern was over how students are first introduced to MIT and the emphasis placed on residence as opposed to the Institute as a whole, Gray said.

Another, subtler issue, was that the fraction of women in the incoming classes was increasing and at the time there were fewer off-campus options for women, he said.

The executive summary report stated as its goals for freshmen housing "to assure a sound introduction to MIT, both socially and educationally; to provide strong support for the transition to the academic demands of MIT; to give students an initial experience with a diverse set of classmates, while providing more time for a thoughtful choice of where and with whom to live in the following three years; and to give members of each class an opportunity to know each other and develop a sense of unity."

"The report was a report to the provost," said Mary C. Potter, the professor of brain and cognitive sciences who chaired the committee.

It was "discussed by the corporation, by faculty, discussed with the community and many other subgroups," Potter said. "There were a lot of people who thought it was a good thing."

Students opposed change in past

Potter said that faculty and administrators were somewhat attracted to the idea, but that students were uniform in opposition.

"What was very clear at the time was that students uniformly didn't want to change the system," she said.

The report, while written for consideration by the provost and president in their decisions, was also brought before the faculty, Gray said. The issue was never brought to a vote amidst strong student opposition and lack of precedent.

"It wouldn't have occurred to me for a moment to bring this up for a vote in 1989," Potter said. "At the time, it was just an idea being bounced around."

Student input and major changes in the administration eventually killed the plan, Potter said. "The issue dribbled away," she said.

The input of students now is very similar to what it was in 1989, Potter said.