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Critiquing the RSSC Report

The final report of the Residence System Steering Committee recommends many fundamental changes to MIT’s housing system, some of which will negatively affect students’ lives. Every student should be concerned with these proposals, as they will alter greatly the current housing landscape on campus.

Most frightening is the proposal that MIT drop its guarantee for four years of Institute housing. Instead, MIT should make an absolute guarantee that any undergraduate seeking four years of on-campus housing be provided with such.

Currently, there is a de facto commitment that incoming freshmen will have four years of undergraduate housing. However, under the RSSC proposal rising sophomores not pledging and losing a lottery for dormitory lodging will be shut off entirely from Institute housing for the remainder of their undergraduate career.

This policy would be disastrous to efforts to build a more coherent community at MIT. The rampant fear and paranoia bred by worries over losing housing will only cause further distrust in the already-frosty relationship between students and administrators. The proposal would also force more students to pledge FSILGs, to the detriment of both the student uncomfortable with that environment and the living group stuck with a resident unsure whether he or she wants to be there.

Economic reality also assures this RSSC policy will wreak havoc. Rents in Cambridge are exorbitant, and 18-year-old freshmen cannot be expected to find an affordable apartment near campus in a short window of time. If MIT wishes to continue to attract the nation’s top students, it must guarantee affordable housing for all of them.

MIT has coped well with heavy dormitory demand in the past. Crowding and finding temporary space for freshmen have been applied successfully. Ultimately, the best answer to undergraduate housing is to increase dormitory capacity. While this will certainly require significant capital outlays, it is a more sensible, forward-looking policy than subsidizing FSILGs for empty beds (another of the RSSC’s proposals).

The Tech is also concerned with changes made to the current system of FSILG rush. The committee’s proposal allows for a five-month window, from November 1 to March 31, in which bidding and pledging may take place. We believe that the Independent Activities Period is an ideal time for Rush. The absence of classwork commitments would allow freshmen to explore all facets of the MIT residence system. The current system of an integrated dormitory/FSILG rush works well; it should be duplicated in IAP. The Interfraternity Council must develop an acceptable system sometime during this long period during which bidding and pledging should take place. The Dormitory Council also must work with the IFC to insure that rush remains positive and successful.

The RSSC embraces a system of Undergraduate Resident Advisors, or upperclassmen who will live among groups of 10 freshmen, guiding and mentoring the first-year students. While this program has the potential to be an important link in MIT’s support system for freshmen, there are still many issues that need to be worked out. There may be redundancy between the role of URAs and the current role of Graduate Resident Tutors. Also unclear is the term for which URAs would serve -- it may be unreasonable to expect URAs to serve for up to three years. The incentives offered to URAs must still be decided; we hope that guaranteed dormitory housing is not used as an incentive for URA recruitment.

Ultimately, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 will make the final decision regarding these proposals. We hope Bacow realizes that the RSSC is but a small group of people, and that others on campus have vastly different ideas and opinions on this topic. He must examine not only the report but the community conversations it has prompted. We hope that Chancellor Bacow gathers the courage to veto the risky suggestions, such as the end of a housing guarantee, made by the RSSC. Ultimately, it is now Chancellor Bacow’s responsibility to guide the new residence process and protect the Institute from dangerous, ill-conceived proposals.