MIT's Duplicity Towards FSILGs
The recent decision mandating the placement of resident advisers in all fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups by this fall reveals the administration's serious lack of consideration and respect for students. The decision undermines the trust students have invested in the Institute on issues of housing and student life.
While the implementation of a mandatory RA program is laudable, the incredibly short notice given to FSILGs is not. The decision comes six months too late and follows a slipshod series of contradictory and disorganized moves.
While President Charles M. Vest did originally call for RAs to be placed in FSILGs by this fall, the administration has since explicitly stated that the program next year would be of a voluntary nature. For Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams to deny this fact when speaking to FSILG leaders is totally unacceptable. Williams needs to carefully consider her credibility with MIT's students and her position as protector of their interests in the MIT administration.
First advised that there was only enough money to fund a pilot program for six FSILGs, but that a funding decision could not be made until after a house had signed a contract to hire an RA, many FSILGs who feared their funding application would be rejected chose not to participate. When MIT suddenly announced that all the houses that had applied for funding would receive money, it betrayed those who had failed to apply for financial reasons.
However, that betrayal pales in comparison to the administration's new directive. Most FSILGs were given only eight weeks to hire their RA. Many are now left ill-equipped to deal with a situation for which they did not believe they needed to set aside resources. Moreover, many fraternity leaders are away from MIT during the summer, adding to the difficulty of the decision-making process.
The last-minute decision to mandate RAs was clearly politically motivated, caused by pressure from the Boston Licensing Board and the ongoing grand jury investigation into the events surrounding the death of Scott S. Krueger '01. While MIT did need to take action to improve its relationship with these bodies and its image in the media, these issues were easily foreseeable in December. A firm decision could have been made then, had the administration not chosen to abdicate its responsibilities.
In addition, the decision to make the RA program mandatory was made without significant student input, and MIT's adviser to the FSILGs, Assistant Dean for Residential Life and Student Life Programs Neal H. Dorow, was not involved in the decision. Now there is essentially no time for student input in defining the role of an RA.
The administration's newest mandate merely exacerbates the problems facing FSILGs. While the appointment of a new employee to address the concerns of sororities and ILGs provides an additional person to help in the program's implementation, the program itself remains ill-defined. Questions remain about how much funding the Institute will provide to the houses to defray the cost of the RAs.
The nature of the RAposition itself also continues to be ill-defined. The job was obviously created to curb underage drinking in FSILGs and mitigate MIT's liability in situations like those surrounding Krueger's death, but the exact responsibilities of the positionhave yet to be outlined beyond vague generalities. While administrators have been quick to suggest the simple day-to-day role an RAwould play, they have been lax in defining more specifically the relationship an RA is to maintain with the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education. While it is fine to characterize the relationship as a partnership, that definition completely avoids any mention of liability issues, which is at the heart of why this program is being pursued. The closest MIT has come to actually defining the RA's role has been to say that it may be modeled on the systems sororities have to employ house directors. However, sorority life is very different from fraternity life, in that all sororities and sorority events have always been alcohol-free.
Ultimately, the creation of a mandatory RA program in FSILGs represents a sound decision. While mistakes have been made, it is everyone's responsibility to make sure this program runs smoothly and does not head toward disaster. The administrators must regain the trust of students by being forthcoming with information and by making decisions about RA liability and funding in a timely manner. They must recognize the faulty decision-making that took place last year and ensure that it is not repeated. It is they who are responsible for making sure every house is able to participate successfully in the program by offering human resources, financial support, and effective leadership.