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Contest Ends as Questions Remain

By Neena S. Kadaba
Staff Reporter

In spite of its original promise, students and administrators involved in the Residence System Design contest admitted they had doubts about the effectiveness of using a contest to design a completely revamped system of housing and residential life at the Institute.

Proposals from the eleven teams that participated in the design contest will be used by a steering committee composed of faculty, students, and alumni who will in turn present a proposal to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow a final design for the residence design system in September.

Some complaints against the contest included problems with loosely-defined rules and a lack of structure.

Tina P. Lin '02 of the Magic Carpet Team believed the steering committee was too optimistic in making the rules so unstructured. "Letting people be on multiple teams, unlimited numbers of team members and developing teams during the five-day forum made the entire process less defined. If they had let teams form before, and then had the presentations, then teams would be able to work better," she said.

In addition, much of the work of open forums during the week to prepare teams for making formal presentations to students may have been lost on many.

Isaac B. Feitler '02, who attended most of the brainstorming sessions held in the early stages of the contest, commented that the sessions did stress that "freshman housing was not the only important thing in designing a new residence system" and noticed that most of the presentations on Friday did not use the techniques presented in the forums.

Time limit cited as weakness

The contest's lack of structure resulted in an even more significant problem that of not enough time to prepare for the presentations.

Joe A. Cirello '01, head of the Dabomb team, commented that the main problem he saw in the contest procedure was in the length of time the teams were given to come up with presentations; a system that MIT officials needed two years to form was given to students for two weeks to evaluate and improve.

"It was unrealistic to attempt to contain this process within a few weeks during IAP," said Writing and Humanistic Studies Lecturer and Dorm Design Team member Matthew K. Belmonte. He went further to say that several students have commented to him that "they would have loved to have been involved in these housing discussions but simply hadn't the time to spare" during the busy IAP.

Faculty interaction a challenge

Many teams found that finding faculty to participate, and communicating their ideas to these faculty members was no easy task. The contest was originally touted as a good opportunity to encourage faculty-student interaction.

"The design contest brings to light the complications, implications and difficulties of faculty-student interactions. From the past week, myself as well as many other students are realizing the significant communication problems we have with administration in the existing system. Everyone is trying to overcome these problems by trying to get faculty as part of their teams of discussing with faculty the details of the proposals," Lin said. She went on to comment that meeting with faculty and administration was difficult as well, and consequently, no faculty members were core parts of the team.

"We felt that it was not necessary to run this as a contest, complete with prizes. Our motivation for submitting a proposal was that we wanted to share our viewpoints and analysis. It is more important that the steering committee evaluate the elements of each proposal than that they pick a winner'," said Alice M. Man G, of the Dorm Design team.

Belmonte went further to say that this competitive mentality was "exactly the opposite of the spirit that we should be seeking to maintain in the MIT community of the next century."

Participants still optimistic

Despite the doubts cast on the contest, many felt that the proposals were useful. Team members and administrators are optimistic about a positive outcome to the housing situation.

With high hopes for the competition, Bacow said, "Much of the wisdom and knowledge necessary to restructure our undergraduate residence system lies within the community. I hope the Design Competition will engage broad segments of our community students, faculty, alumni, parents and staff in helping to formulate creative approaches to a redesigned residence system.

"I think it is important that instead of a decision of what the housing system will be like being made by one person, that there is a large number of people, including students, who will be helping shape the system," said Phil Bernard, program director in the Office of Residence Life and Student Life Programs.

"We really felt that student input is what the administration needs to make the right choices for the community, and we saw that the potential in the is opportunity to influence the steering committee's views with out ideas. I hope that, after seeing recurrent themes and concerns throughout tall of the proposals, the steering committee will realize which aspects of MIT life are most lacking, which aspects are most important, and how improvements can be made without uprooting and drastically changing the current system," said Susan Taing '01, of the Optimizers Team.