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Keep Ashdown House for Graduate Students

“We are very concerned about the potentially serious situation that is threatening to affect the living and learning environment of a large group of graduate students, those at Ashdown House.” So began an open letter penned by Ashdown Housemasters Vernon and Beth Ingram and addressed to President Charles M. Vest, published in The Tech on December 9, 1994. They wrote in response to the recommendation of the Institute’s Strategic Housing Planning Committee Report regarding the conversion of Ashdown House into an undergraduate dormitory. That recommendation was defeated, and Ashdown House remained a graduate residence, but history repeats itself. On April 27 of this year, the Residence System Steering Committee presented its Phase II Status Report calling for the rededication of Ashdown House to an undergraduate dormitory -- specifically as a “Freshman Hall.”

As the representatives of Ashdown House, as graduate students, and as members of the MIT community, we would like to express our opposition to this proposal. We acknowledge that the Steering Committee has been charged with a difficult task -- the development of a viable, long-term housing strategy for the entire student community, and we believe that this end is best served by the preservation of Ashdown House in its present location and function for the graduate student community.

Ashdown House is unique among graduate residences, providing a house-wide, community oriented living style. Moreover, it serves as a hub of graduate activity for residents and non-residents alike, fostering interdepartmental relationships and promoting the ideal of a community of scholars. In September 1998, the MIT Task Force on Student Life and Learning released a report stating, “The thoughtful programs that exist at Ashdown House are an example of how to bring about a strong sense of community among graduate students. Such housing is closely aligned to MIT’s educational mission.” In this light, the Steering Committee’s recommendations are all the more surprising.

We protest the Steering Committee’s suggestion of MacGregor House as an alternative graduate residence, both because it reduces the number of on-campus beds available to graduate students and because the entry-oriented structure of MacGregor House is not conducive to the house-wide community of Ashdown graduate students. In addition, we believe that the prevalence of singles in MacGregor House suggests its retention as an undergraduate residence in order to maintain a diversity of housing options for undergraduates.

Although graduate students comprise half of MIT’s student body, there are currently no graduate student members of the Steering Committee (but there are four undergraduates). We believe the Steering Committee can be aided in its task by the presence of one or more graduate students, and we have expressed a request for representation to the Committee. In the interim, we have formed an ad-hoc council to consider alternative ideas and are circulating a petition supporting the preservation of Ashdown House as a graduate community.

Ronak J. Bhatt G
Ashdown House Executive Committee