Housing Changes Prompted by TurmoilBy Frank Dabek
As freshmen make their rounds touring MIT's off campus living options this week, they are walking in the twilight of an 125 year tradition. A series of events and decisions in the past year has had major repercussions for the Institute's housing system.
President Charles M. Vest sealed the fate of freshmen rush when he announced to the MIT community and the world that all freshmen would live in dormitories beginning in the fall of 2001. Vest cited the still unreleased report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, which recommended moving freshmen to campus, when making his announcement.
One cannot ignore, however, the influence that a string of alcohol incidents on and off campus beginning with the death of Scott S. Krueger '01 must have had on Vest.
Potter report predates decision
The idea of placing freshmen in Institute housing is older than the tragedy of last year, however. In 1989, the report of the Freshmen Housing Committee, known commonly as the Potter Report after its chairman, Professor Mary C. Potter, recommended that freshmen live in on-campus housing for their freshmen year and be given the option to move off-campus during their sophomore year. The committee hoped to encourage diversity among students and an identification with the Institute. It expressed concerns that the housing system was unprepared for the increasing number of women in entering classes.
In an interview with The Tech during at the end of his first year as president, Vest said of the housing system and the Potter report, "I don't think it's clear that a system that served this institution very well in a day and age when the student body was almost entirely male and extremely homogeneous in its makeup will necessarily be the best system for 10 years or 20 years from now."
The Potter report was never even brought before the faculty for a vote, however. Its sweeping changes were unpopular with large portions of the student body and with alumni faculty.
Chorover provokes debate
The tragedy of last year provided a completely different environment to discuss changes to MIT's housing system. Following Krueger's death, Stephan L. Chorover, who like Potter is a professor in the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, introduced a motion at the October faculty meeting stating "It is the sense of the faculty that commencing the academic year 1998 all freshmen should live on campus."
In support of his motion, Chorover said that "Increasingly, the impressions students gain [of MIT] are set long before they encounter the [faculty] and before they see the inside of a classroom."
A month of intense debate followed the introduction of Chorover's resolution. The motion was opposed by groups on and off campus, while it found a number of supporters in the faculty.
At the following faculty meeting, Chorover substituted a new, far weaker motion that called for a review of the housing system, and a change in Orientation, among other things. The motion passed.
Chorover dropped his focus on moving freshmen on campus after seeing "enormous change in the last month," he said. In fact, Chorover made a complete repudiation of his original motion when he said after the second meeting that he was "never and not now primarily interested in moving freshmen to campus." Chorover called the original motion simply an "attempt to learn what the sense of the faculty is."
After Chorover's substitute motion passed, Vest expressed his approval: "I do not believe it would have been appropriate to ask all freshmen to live on campus in the fall of 1998," he said.
Vest takes action also
Chorover's motion was not the only institutional response to Krueger's death that affected housing. Shortly after Krueger's death, during a period of intense media focus on the Institute, Vest pledged to undertake the construction of a new dormitory. That dormitory, which is scheduled to be completed in 2001, makes requiring freshmen to live on campus logistically feasible.
At the same time he announced plans for a new dormitory, Vest called for the graduate resident tutor program of the dormitory system to be extended to off-campus housing. That program will begin this year after a number of confusing changes in timing that left ILGs scrambling to find tutors in the last month of the summer to avoid being forced dry or losing freshmen housing privileges.
All of these events led up to Vest's announcement this week that freshmen will be housed on campus in 2001.
The past year has seen a battle waged for the status quo in housing, with many of the participants pointing to Krueger's death as a turning point. While it is clear that the death of a freshman stimulated debate, the changes in the housing system had roots long before the events of the past year.