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Committee Outlines Residence Proposals

By Kevin R. Lang

MIT embarked upon its first major step toward a new vision of residential life Tuesday when members of the Residence System Steering Committee presented their preliminary proposals at a meeting with students and other concerned members of the MIT community.

The committee’s “Phase II Status Report -- ‘An Evolving Framework’” focuses on changes to residence life for freshmen. Their recommendations include the creation of a “Freshman Hall” to become the center of student life programming for each incoming class.

The report also outlined a changed timeline for residence selection to include an Independent Activities Period rush and a March housing lottery for freshmen. Incoming freshmen would choose their first-year residence through a summer mailing and a Correction Lottery to be held their first week on-campus would give any dissatisfied students the option of moving.

In addition, one resident adviser would be assigned to every ten freshmen. RAs would serve as an additional support system to the existing network of graduate resident tutors and associate advisers.

The RSSC recommendations, however, are not intended to be taken as the final design of MIT’s residential system.

“The framework presented here is not offered as the solution, but as one coherent structure that has found consensus within the 11-member Steering Committee, and in response to which is believed an excellent solution can be constructed,” the report states.

Notably, however, the RSSC proposals released Tuesday make no reference to the new undergraduate dormitory to be built on Vassar Street across from Next House.

Ashdown to be “Freshman Hall”

According to the report, the “Freshman Hall” will function as a center of residential programming for freshmen.

Freshmen would comprise 60 percent of the hall’s residents while the remaining 40 percent of residents would include graduate resident tutors, resident advisers, and upperclassmen interested in interacting with freshman residents.

This residence would enable “a concentration of first year residences, key student life programming and first year academic services offices, and first year dedicated academic space,” the report says.

The steering committee also suggested that Ashdown House, which currently houses graduate students, would serve as the best site for the “Freshman Hall.” MacGregor House, in turn, would become a graduate dormitory, according to the proposals.

“The residence designated as the freshman hall should be located near the main campus,” the report says. At Tuesday’s meeting, committee chair William J. Hecht ’61 explained that the new dorm would be too far from campus to effectively serve as a freshman residence.

Although the report does not discuss where MacGregor residents would move, Hecht suggested that a three-year transition period would be necessary, but that upperclassmen would be forced out of MacGregor at some point.

The report also suggests that RAs would serve as “a principle mechanism for the intentional, active mentoring of freshmen students in the residence halls.”

Another recommendation in the report outlined the idea of separating the RA and his assigned freshmen into a “freshman cluster” within the dormitory to improve the freshmen’s sense of community.

However, Hecht added, “we really want to make sure that there is contact beyond the resident advisers, with upperclass students.”

Residence selection redesigned

In a significant departure from the current residence selection system, incoming students would select their first-year residence via summer mailings. “Assignments of residence hall, room, and roommate(s) will be made in advance of the student’s arrival for Orientation,” the report states.

Students would be given a chance to “assess the appropriateness of their summer preferences and their assigned roommate(s)” under this revised dormitory rush, according to the report. At the close of dormitory rush, a correction lottery would allow dissatisfied students to change their residences.

“We think we [should] preserve some level of freshman selection,” Hecht said.

“Shuffle” to aid FSILG rush

Another proposal calls for a “sophomore shuffle” to help FSILGs adjust to no longer being able to rush incoming freshmen. The report proposes that freshmen who choose to stay on-campus would enter a housing lottery in the spring term to determine their residences for the remaining three years.

Although students would be able to stay in their freshman year residences, they would be required to enter the same room assignment pool as incoming freshmen, thereby providing an incentive to move.

There has already been some confusion over the report’s suggestions for seniority rules regarding the sophomore shuffle.

“The sentence is not clear,” said Steering Committee Process Manager Kirk D. Kolenbrander.

Committee member Jennifer C. Berk ’01 indicated that the committee’s main hope was that students participating in the spring lottery would not be given lower preference than residents who opt to squat.

Committee proposes IAP rush

The steering committee’s report also addresses the many issues facing FSILGs in 2001 -- when all freshmen will be required to live on campus. The committee proposed that rush should occur over a three- to four-day period at the end of IAP, although students would not move into living groups until the fall of their sophomore years. The report also suggests a “practice” IAP rush in 2000 to prepare for the changes. Hecht noted, however, that the committee reached only limited consensus on the timing of FSILG rush.

Hecht emphasized the positive qualities of the current FSILG system and said that the report attempts to preserve them as much as possible. “The independent system has done -- at its best -- a very good job of mentoring,” Hecht said.

RSSC calls for FSILG relocation

The report also encourages FSILGs to consider moving to Cambridge because building a broad MIT community is complicated by distant independent housing in Boston and Brookline. Along those lines, the report discusses a mechanism, potentially to be created by MIT, that will facilitate building new houses either on Vassar Street or in the Central Square area.

Regarding the transition to on-campus housing for freshmen, the report suggests a means of subsidizing fraternity houses with graduate students. MIT would arrange for interested graduate students to live in FSILGs that needed to fill beds, and MIT would fund any difference in FSILG costs and graduate rent rates.

Graduate housing addressed

In one of the few mentions of graduate housing aside from the Ashdown proposal, the report calls for MIT to build a new gradate residence hall. “Graduate recruiting, central to issues of future excellence for MIT, is hampered by our competitive disadvantage among other premier research universities,” the report says.

“We think they’re a vital part of the community,” Hecht said. “We undervalue the contribution that graduate students can make.” Hecht cited the strong bonds formed between graduate and undergraduate students through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program projects and the GRT program.

The report also included a number of proposals for increased interaction between students, faculty, and the community. The report suggests that residences have “House Professors” in order to “facilitate natural and lasting interactions” between students and faculty. The report also encourages the development of theme houses that foster relationships between faculty and students.

Hecht emphasized the report’s title as an “evolving” plan for MIT’s residence system. “It may well be a superb system. It also may be a disaster,” Hecht said. A number of the report’s proposals are fairly certain, Hecht said, but the report is by no means a final document. Tuesday’s meeting was the first of many discussions to be held with the MIT community. “This is not done,” Hecht said.

Hecht admitted that the committee was presented with a nearly impossible task. “We have tried to fulfill a whole series of conflicting constraints,” Hecht said. “Everybody wants substantial cultural change, no one wants change.”

One of the committee’s main goals, to address the issues of community brought up by the report of the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning brings up immediate conflicts, Hecht said. “If you want a community, you have to give up some individual flexibility and freedom.” The Task Force recommends that life at the university be integrated into an education triad of academics, research, and community.

Other members of the steering committee include students Elisha W. Hopson ’00, Eric Liu ’00, and Abigail H. Pelcyger ’01. Associate Dean Andrew M. Eisenmann ’70, Professor Emeritus Paul E. Gray ’54, Professor Karen K. Gleason ’82, Professor Anne E. McCants, and alumni/ae Erin M. Hester ’82 and Stephen C. Stuntz ’67 also served on the committee.