Orientation Information Wants to Be Free
We are living in the Information Age. Professors and students alike expound on the value of information, and the importance of free access to information. These days, constricting the flow of information is seen as at best tyrannical and, at worst, dangerous. Information, in a sense, wants to be free.
Imagine my surprise, then, reading over the proposed rush changes. The Orientation 98 Committee has released a wonderful plan to regulate and govern the flow of information during rush. It seems clear that the proposal needs to be sent right back to some info-controlling, primitive era. On one hand, it shocks me that such a policy could come out of such a technological, "information-friendly" place as the Institute. On the other hand, the solution is so typically MIT it makes me ill.
In the face of complaints of inadequate and confusing information, the administration has attempted to take over. The solution: they dole out residence factoids like they do problem sets. Summer mailings - not quite gone, but limited in their size and timing. Clearly, we wouldn't want to pester incoming freshmen with silly information about their residence options that may cloud their judgement, or alter the "fair" playing field for the 48 hours of rush. Summer parties - only if a frosh invites himself by requesting for a phone call. The parties are even scarier than those mailings. At last, the administrators heard the giant sucking sound of all this information fleeing the hands of freshmen, and decided to fill it with a Residence Midway.
Now there is an effective way of choosing a place to live. A pamphlet-throwing midway may be a helpful way to gather information on classes, majors, or even activities, but residences? I think not. The committee has painfully refused to acknowledge the existence of multiple types of information. Unfortunately for next year's freshmen, the information necessary to select a residence and to orient themselves to this campus is vastly different from that necessary to choose a major or do a problem set. Our wonderful institution isn't very good at recognizing this, let along dealing with it. What kind of information is essential during rush? Frosh need to gather information through having experiences (both pleasant and unpleasant), personal contacts, and forming relationships with other students and faculty on campus. This kind of information takes more time to gather and interpret than factual, objective information - the kind that the administration has put forth a wonderful plan to provide. But life is messy: frosh aren't going to choose their residence or feel comfortable on campus through objective information. Decisions won't be made by optimizing parameters, but only by feeling them out.
We have reached the million dollar question: What is to be done? First and foremost, information must be free-flowing and honest. If groups want to contact students over the summer, so be it. Summer parties and mailings give students information, positive and negative, about the sponsoring groups. Honesty is also vital. The current policy wherein upperclassmen disguise their residence allegiance during the first few days of R/O is completely ludicrous. Posing is the worst thing that you can, because it confuses the flow of information. Students cannot be forced to put up facades. Second, the rush process needs to be given as much time as is humanly possible. The debate over a semester or year-long rush is well-trodden. Suffice it to say that at this point, that debate is irrelevant. We need to give rush as much time as we can, and if that means the first week students are on campus, than that's what it means.
How can we balance the necessary academic events with rush? Well, folks, we can't. You can see from the proposed schedule how the Freshmen Essay Evaluation and adviser meetings have dictated the flow of rush and socially acclimating activities. There just isn't time. Academic information, however, is the kind that can in fact be gleaned from literature or over the course of the following semester or year, when academics will begin to consume the lives of the frosh. These things can and should be explored later.
The FEE is a totally inappropriate way to indoctrinate frosh to life at MIT. It fails students on the basis of an unedited written piece when they'll be able to pass the requirement later with the help of faculty and the writing office. Please! Those in charge of the FEE and those who have allowed it to continue for as long as it has should be ashamed of themselves.
If we make sure freshmen advisers are well-versed in freshman curriculum options, frosh would be able to have a meaningful conversation with a faculty member and selected classes on Registration Day. When they arrive on campus, however, freshmen aren't concerned about the intricacies of 8.01 vs. 8.01X. They care about their living environment for the next four years. They want to know what are people like here, how will they have fun, who will be around to bail them out of disasters, what activities can they join, and, of course, where will they live?
These are the questions that the Institute must refocus Orientation 98 to answer. We know freshmen are ready for academics; the Admissions Office is paid to worry about that. We know that they'll probably fail the FEE. We know that they'll probably skip the Academic Expo. So let's focus on the acclimating students to the atmosphere on campus. We must introduce ourselves, show off our community, and have a few laughs. We might all have a good time.