R/O by Any Other Name...
Wednesday, J. Kim Vandiver PhD '75, professor of ocean engineering, presented to the faculty a list of preliminary proposals for changing Residence and Orientation Week. The proposals, which are the work of the Orientation Residence Committee and largely in agreement with Interfraternity Council recommendations, are designed to make rush and residence selection less stressful for incoming students, to increase faculty-student interaction during R/O, and to place more emphasis on academic orientation. While we believe these are very laudable goals, we believe that the proposals will do little or nothing to bring them about.
Names: The single most inane proposal on the list involves changing the name of R/O to "Orientation." Changing the name accomplishes only one thing: It gives those who are not involved in rush the appearance of having changed it without having done anything.
Rush: The proposals included several points related to rush, such as lowering the incidence of hard flushing by fraternities, and increasing the number of activities that happen in dormitories. These reforms will do little or nothing to reduce the intensity of fraternity rush, however. Ultimately, the intensity of rush depends on the members of the fraternities who do the rushing, not the length of rush. The proposals fail to create an incentive to change the tone of rush. Making the process longer will only make the experience more interminable for those participating in it and will further increase the profile of rush in R/O. Flushing, hard or not, remains the only way of telling freshmen that they are not welcome to join a given fraternity. And since the IFC already discourages hard flushing, this proposal represents no change at all.
Academic orientation: Among the most prominent items among the proposals listed by Vandiver were those related to enlarging the profile of academic orientation in R/O. Faculty should be more involved in orientation; orientation to MIT and the academic work done here should dominate orientation, and should precede residence selection.
Noble as these ideas may be, the administration has not been able to excite freshmen about academic orientation. Skits and speeches about science or engineering at the President's Convocation, for example, are staged shows with little faculty-student interaction. The academic midway is typically staffed by students and departmental administrators. To many freshmen, MOYA, freshman advisory seminar dinners, and similar events seem pointless and contrived, while still others find them only a distraction from rush. In the past, these events have been fraught with controversy over possible abuse by fraternity members using non-rush activities to siphon freshman toward their houses.
Faculty-student interaction: Although Vandiver's committee was not charged with determining how these high-minded proposals will be implemented, there is every likelihood that implementation will prove impossible. Several faculty members spoke to the difficulty of committing more time, money, or energy to interacting with students. Most faculty are simply not present on campus during R/O, and there is no reason to believe that things will be different next year. Faculty have no incentive to get involved in the community to begin with, let alone during their own August break. Until the faculty are willing to make changes in their own lifestyles and priorities, it seems unlikely that there will be real faculty-student interaction during R/O.
Testing: The committee also recommended changing or eliminating the mandatory testing of freshmen during R/O. We support this recommendation. Failing one or both of the mandatory tests is the first academic experience at MIT for many freshmen. We agree that freshmen need a more positive introduction to academics; purely optional advanced standing exams would be far preferable to the current system of essay evaluation and math diagnostic examinations.
The faculty proposals for orientation represent an idealistic wish list without any mechanism for implementation. The powerful forces that make rush a stressful and difficult experience will still be present, and little will change.