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Community Discusses Grad Housing in GSC Forum

By Laura McGrath Moulton
STAFF REPORTER

Top administrators spoke openly with graduate students on issues of housing, money, and Institute priorities at the Graduate Student Housing Forum on Thursday.

About 30 students, both graduate and undergraduate, attended the forum. Brian J. Schneider G, president of the Graduate Student Council, moderated the discussion.

Because of the expensive housing market in the Boston and Cambridge area, graduate students were anxious to hear about the administration’s plans for expanded graduate housing, especially a new graduate dormitory which has been in the planning stage for several years. That process is “dormant as of last summer,” said Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72.

Several students expressed frustration with the relatively higher rents in these apartments, which are still below market price, Bacow said. Other frustration was expressed about the fact that the buildings are managed by management companies with little understanding of MIT students’ specific concerns.

Graduate dorm on back burner

Currently, the administration has put two capital projects -- the new undergraduate dormitory, which must be open in time to house all freshmen on campus by the fall of 2001, and the Stata Center -- ahead of the graduate dormitory.

Director of Planning O. Robert Simha, MCP ’57, who attended the forum, noted that the Stata Center has “been in line for about fifteen years,” a time frame he said was typical for a major project to go “from idea to reality.”

The new graduate dormitory, however, has significant support among the administration in addition to a “revenue stream” in the form of rents, Bacow said. “My desire is to have a new graduate dormitory open by the fall of 2002,” Bacow said.

Many projects strain finances

The major stumbling block for all large projects is financing, all the administrators said. Executive Vice President John R. Curry outlined MIT’s financial situation. Currently, the Institute has a “triple A bond rating,” an extremely good rating that is shared by only “about nine other institutions,” Curry said. This rating confers several advantages on MIT, including a lowered interest rate and an incentive to donors concerned about how well-managed their donations will be, Curry said.

However, maintaining the bond rating means that MIT can only carry a limited amount of debt. Currently, MIT can carry “about $300 million in incremental debt from the bond market,” Curry said. Curry answered in the negative to a question about whether it would be more advantageous for MIT to carry more debt and accept a slightly lower bond rating.

Curry then outlined the various “claims” on that $300 million. MIT currently has about $120 million in “internal debt,” Curry said. The undergraduate dormitory is currently estimated at $45 million, he said, and the Stata Center at over $200 million once various landscaping, ancillary costs and “soft costs” such as furniture are factored in.

Although the Stata Center has been supported through gifts currently totalling about $80-90 million, there is still very little room left for cost of the new graduate dormitory, Curry said.

MIT explores funding grad dorms

Several options exist to fund the new graduate dormitory, Bacow and Curry said. Currently, “we can’t afford to replicate Ashdown,” Bacow said. The “silent phase of a capital campaign” is underway, the results of which can either fund the new dorm directly or lower the debt load from other projects to allow MIT to borrow more for the new dorm.

To make the new dorm more solvent, the rents in that dorm could be higher than other graduate housing rents, or there could be an increase in graduate housing rents, Bacow said, adding that “these are the kinds of choices” that must be examined.

MIT could also possible collaborate with a private development and management company, which would build and manage the new dormitory on land donated by MIT.

This possibility is related to one of the current housing options open to graduate students, living in off-campus apartments in buildings such as 1010 Massachusetts Avenue owned by the MIT Real Estate Office.

MIT houses 32 percent of its graduate students, Bacow said. Harvard houses 37 percent of its graduate students, and other peer institutions range from 11 percent at the University of California-Berkeley to 59 percent at Caltech and 61 percent at Princeton, Bacow said, adding that MIT has had a “longstanding goal of housing 50 percent of graduate students.”

Present at the forum were Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Education Isaac M. Colbert, Associate Dean of Residence and Campus Activities Andrew M. Eisenmann ’70, Curry, Bacow, Dean of Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, and Philip S. Khoury, Dean of the School of the Humanities and Social Sciences.