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Deadline for Final RSSC Report Extended

By Anna K. Benefiel

In an attempt to accommodate more student input, the deadline for the final report of the Residence System Steering Committee has been extended to October 1, 1999.

A draft of the report will be presented to the MIT community “on or about Registration Day, September 7” this fall term, according to RSSC Chair William J. Hecht ’61 and executive vice president of the MIT Alumni Association.

Extending the deadline by nearly a month will allow the committee, to “take added feedback from the community for about three weeks” after the publication of the draft response, Hecht said.

Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 believes that this time will “give students a chance to return to campus in the fall, and digest and react to the final recommendation before it is submitted. Moreover,” he adds, “there will be additional time after submission for the community to react to the recommendation before any final decisions are made.”

The RSSC was charged earlier this year with designing improvements to residence life in light of the changes the MIT residence system will undergo when all freshmen are required to live on campus starting in 2001. Their preliminary proposals, released in late April, were met with opposition by students. The proposals included a call for the creation of a “Freshman Hall” to be housed in Ashdown House, currently a graduate dormitory and a changed timeline for rush. Their report will be submitted to Bacow after which a final report will be released to be adopted by the Institute.

Recently, the Undergraduate Association passed a resolution suggesting that the RSSC reporting date be moved back to at the least October 15.

Students protest possible move

A number of students have already formally responded to RSSC’s preliminary proposals. Most recently, community reaction has taken the form of the Unified Student Response to the Phase II Status Report, the MacGregor Defense Petition, and the Ashdown Residence System Proposal.

Drafted jointly by the UA, the Graduate Student Council, the Association of Student Activities, the Interfraternity Council, and the Dormitory Council, the Unified Student Response acts to focus the response of the student body.

In brief, the proposal sets forth ten “common values” that should “be at the core of MIT’s new residence system,” according to the report which was made widely available on campus this past May 17. These values include diversity, freedom of choice, community interaction, the preservation of Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups, periodic assessment of the system, and responsible community governance.

“We felt it would be a more effective response if we came together, to show a unified front, instead of each going off to write our own, possibly conflicting responses” said Dormcon President Jennifer A. Frank ’00.

Of particular note, the “Freshman Hall” section of the response calls for either Baker House, the new Vassar Street dorm, or a new dorm to be located at a site currently occupied by the Kresge parking lot and the Omniturf field to be the “Primarily Freshman Dorm” locations.

MacGregor mounts response

Jason H. Wasfy ’01 and Autumn Steuckrath ’00 co-authored the MacGregor response which states that “converting MacGregor into a graduate dormitory is unnecessary and deleterious to the goals of the RSSC.”

Noting that “MacGregor’s consistent popularity among students underscores its value to the undergraduate residence system,” the MacGregor report goes on to affirm that it is “in the best interest of the undergraduate community [for] MacGregor [to] remain an option for incoming freshmen and upperclass students.”

Over 75 percent of dormitory residents, including nearly 300 students, alumni, Graduate Resident Tutors, and MIT staff signed the defense petition before it was submitted to Associate Dean Andrew M. Eisenmann ’70, according to Wasfy and Steuckrath.

Ashdown voices criticisms

Similarly, a strong response to the RSSC report was mounted at Ashdown, where residents are “deeply concerned about [the report’s] implications on the wider MIT community” according to Rebecca Xiong G, Ashdown House executive committee chair.

In a meeting on Thursday, May 6, Ashdown residents presented their vision of a residence system integrating the Task Force on Student Life and Learning objectives and the needs of the graduate student community.

In short, the proposal describes Ashdown as a “community of scholars” which acts as “the central meeting place for the larger graduate community,” with extensive “cultural, social, volunteer and athletic programs.”

To meet the challenge of maintaining “diverse individual communities, while housing all the freshmen on campus by 2001,” the proposal suggests a distribution of freshmen “among the existing undergraduate dorms and the planned 2001 dorm,” with freshmen “cluster[ing]... within their respective dorms around [Resident Advisors].”

Committee commends progress

In reflecting upon what the redesign has accomplished thus far, Bacow, Hecht, and Steering Committee Process Manager Kirk D. Kolenbrander all commended the progress the committee has made.

Bacow congratulated the RSSC for “engaging the entire an extended conversation” to improve the residence system. Hecht noted that the framework of the redesign process was successful in eliciting feedback, alternative proposals, and opportunities for further deliberation and information gathering, while Kolenbrander praised the “openness and accessibility” which has thus far been “central to” the residence redesign.

Eisenmann added that although the process has “looked mostly at issues of implementation and transition for the residential system as a consequence of having all first-year undergraduates live on campus,” there is more work to do in creating a “robust, comprehensive, and integrated residential life” system at MIT.

He also commended the nature “of the conversation within and across the MIT community” for constructive response even though people disagree on contentious issues. “The MIT Community should be applauded for how they have interacted and responded” to issues of the uncertain future of the residence system.