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Orientation '98 Fails to Meet Goals

The administrators involved in planning Orientation 1998 said that they left students out of the final decision making process because they wanted to put the interests of incoming students ahead of the interests of established groups like dormitories and fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups. Their reasoning was that the conservative student body would immediately act to block the sweeping changes the committee was planning to institute. This was a flawed decision because it dismissed a large, qualified group of people who have a good understanding of how Orientation and rush work.

Student involvement in decision-making serves two important purposes. First, including students gives the community the benefit of student perspectives on the programs that will affect them most. The faculty and administration should not need to be reminded again that the student body provides a large pool of information that is ready and willing to be tapped. Second, involving students in decision-making processes serves an educational role, giving students the invaluable experience of taking some responsibility for the direction of what is, in reality, their own community as well. Denying students this role effectively devalues student participation and lends to the feeling of hostility and conflict often perceived between students and the administration.

The Tech opposes all policy-making processes that are secretive and closed to students. It is irresponsible for faculty and administrators to sidestep introspective discussion by hiding behind closed doors.

We recognize that students are likely to be a conservative force in any decision that threatens to change student life. However, a policy reached with input from all parties is more likely to be successful than one imposed unilaterally by one group upon another.

The problems with this plan go beyond the method by which the policy changes were developed. The most recent changes suffer from a lack of vision. The group that developed the current proposal, chaired by Dean for Undergraduate Curriculum Kip V. Hodges was charged with putting everything on the table and rethinking the way Orientation works at MIT. The rationale given for the student exclusion, in fact, was that the committee members wanted the freedom to plot out a new direction for Orientation - an understandable, if incorrect, notion. Given the amount of leeway this committee had, it is surprising to see that what emerged is largely what we began with. Minor concerns, such as the scheduling of the Freshman EssayEvaluation, have been used to control the entire process. A larger vision about what Orientation should be was never created and smaller concerns were allowed to dominate the conversation. By accepting mandates on the scheduling of relatively minor activities, the committee abandoned any hope of totally overhauling Orientation.

In the past, when The Tech has editorialized on rush and Orientation, we have proposed several standards by which changes in these programs should be held. Rush should be less stressful than it has been. It should allow more time for freshmen to make their housing decisions. Why does MIT give undergraduates a year to decide on a major, but only six days to choose a residence? If freshmen are permitted more time and better information, they will be more able to make wise decisions.

Rush should be a more honest process with complete candor in discussions with potential new members. There should be more information available to freshmen. This can be solved partly by independent evaluation from third parties, a laudable component of the current plan, and partly by living groups removing some of the facades that they put up for rush.

For rush and Orientation to approach these goals, a wide restructuring is necessary. This was possible when the issue was raised in the fall, but the critical decisions were delayed past the point when they could be implemented. Now, the Class of 2002 is stuck with a set of policies that represent incremental changes bounded by minor details, rather than a new process that meets the larger need for change.