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A History of Bad Decisions

Veena Thomas

What is MIT’s administration thinking?

I know that I am the nth person to complain about the administration. But has anyone actually stepped back and paid close attention to the frightening trend of poor decisions and a severe lack of concern about the students?

First of all, we have the oft-discussed all-freshmen-in-dorms-in-2001 edict. Obviously this upset the vast majority of the student body, dorm residents and FSILG residents alike, and caused many conflicts regarding ways to establish this policy. Some of the proposals raised in the past several months have been doomed from the start.

One such proposal involved changing Ashdown House to a mainly freshman dorm, and converting MacGregor House to graduate housing. Did anyone stop and think about the students that live in those houses? Those living in each house chose their residence for a reason: graduate students know about Ashdown’s community spirit, and undergraduates wanting a single move to MacGregor. Did the Residence System Steering Committee expect MacGregor residents to say, “You know what? I might have chosen MacGregor as my dormitory of choice. But I’m really happy with the proposed switch. I didn’t want a single anyway”?

Luckily the RSSC dropped that proposal, confronted with strong negative reactions, an alternate proposal from Ashdown students, and at least 75 percent of MacGregor residents in opposition to the plan. But the current proposal still leaves open the scary prospect of unhappy sophomores apartment-hunting because they have been forced out of the dorm system.

Take another example. In the spring of 1999, MIT decided to renew Aramark’s dining services contract and eliminate students’ hopes of better food. Admittedly, MIT had made a positive step by deciding to divide up the campus into two dining zones. But then they hired Aramark to manage both the zones! The whole point of having two dining zones was to force Aramark to re-apply for the contract, and then hire two separate companies. This would have eliminated the Aramark monopoly and increased competition, hopefully resulting in lower prices, better food, and a happier student body. But judging from past and current actions of the administration, it would be wrong of me to assume that a happier student body is a top priority at MIT.

Let’s examine yet another example. Recently the athletic department, citing budget constraints, decided to cut all junior varsity teams and to cut varsity teams to the bare minimum needed to compete. Not surprisingly, this created yet another uproar in an already-stressed student body. A large number of MIT students compete(d) on athletic teams for fun, sport, and as an outlet for stress and an escape from academics. I don’t know of any of these students happy with these cuts. The morale of the remaining athletes on the teams, not to mention the students told they can no longer compete, has been hurt as well.

I don’t believe we can place blame on the athletic department. Faced with a limited budget, they believed it was a better solution than cutting some teams entirely and redistributing the money among the remaining teams. But why was it necessary to make such a decision? Again, it is due to the administration. The athletics budget has remained unchanged since 1987. That’s twelve years with no additional money to support an ever-growing program. Yet during those same years, MIT apparently had enough money to subsidize any losses suffered by Aramark, some undoubtedly a result of unhappy students refusing to eat there.

Interestingly, this lack of financial support for athletics is not evidenced by the importance MIT places on its sports teams, judging from the admissions literature. MIT takes pride of informing potential applicants that we have the most varsity teams (41) of any university in the country. Well, thanks to the MIT administration, we now have the fewest junior varsity teams of any university in the country: zero. Try saying that in the admissions literature. School spirit is low, as evidenced by the Viewpoint in The Tech on October 5. When questioned “What do you think about school spirit at MIT?” students responded rather disturbingly: “It’s fake,” “I don’t think there’s much, but there’s potential for improvement,” “It’s not very high,” “I think it’s becoming existent,” and “We’re not always proud to tell people we go here.”

Is it any wonder why some are not proud of attending a school with a history of demonstrating its lack of commitment to the students? Then President Vest wonders why “there has not been the same level of tradition and expectation of giving back that’s become inculcated in people from the Ivy League universities.” Perhaps it is because the Ivy League schools keep the interests of their students in mind when they make decisions. Maybe it’s because graduates of Ivy League schools do not feel slighted and ignored by their administrations.

MIT should not blame alumni for refusing to donate money without first taking a hard look at the lack of support it shows for its current students. The administration cannot wait until after its students graduate to try and establish good relations and rapport with them in hopes they will donate money to the Institute. If the administration continues with its lack of concern for us, in another twenty years alumni donations may cease altogether. Let’s hope no one has the nerve to ask why.