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Giving Grad Students Some Relief

Elaine Wan

It is time for the MIT administration to realize that graduate students are important to the MIT community. If the Institute's goals are to attract talented students, keep our prestige, and increase satisfaction, then it is imperative for us to focus on the interests of graduates as well as the interests of undergraduates. Although undergraduate housing takes precedence over graduate housing, the administration should provide more housing options to graduate students to demonstrate it has concerns for all members of the MIT community.

In order to execute President Vest's decision to house all freshmen on campus by 2001, the administration may delay its plans for the graduate student housing project in order to build the new undergraduate dormitory. To the administration, the change in plan is just a result of prioritization. But to graduate students, this may be an indefinite postponement of their long promised wish.

Since MIT cannot afford to complete all of its current projects, the administration will decide next week which less urgent projects will have their funding cut. The Graduate Student Council has expressed its dismay that graduate student housing has not been the focus of concern, and it fears that its housing project will be the one judged to be lower on the priority list.

Last November, to ease fears of undergraduate overcrowding, some graduate students in Tang Hall moved to allotted spaces in Worthington Place to make room for 140 undergraduate juniors and seniors. The graduate students will likely be able to move back in by next fall, but the available graduate housing in Ashdown House, Green Hall, Tang Hall, and Edgerton Hall will cover less than one third of the graduate student body. Students currently in the Worthington complex will also no longer have the benefit of paying Tang leasing prices.

Graduate students are expected to find housing on their own since the administration does not guarantee graduate on-campus housing. The financial assistance received from fellowships, grants, or being a teaching assistant enables many graduate students to afford a comfortable living environment. However, with the lack of affordable off-campus housing, graduate students who pay tuition without any financial assistance find it very difficult to balance academics and research, while earning enough to eat and preventing the accumulation of a huge debt after graduation.

Graduate students who pay tuition like undergraduates should receive the same undergraduate benefits, including housing. If the MIT administration does not provide assistance to such students, then it is deterring talented students from attending graduate school here.

The MIT administration guarantees undergraduates on-campus housing because undergraduates pay a high tuition which in most cases is fully supported by parents. The money that undergraduates earn from UROPs or as deskworkers is only enough to cover personal expenses. On the other hand, graduate students are expected to find their own sources of funding to support living and educational expenses, since they are older and wiser. After all, they will have to go through the same process of finding living accommodations and supporting themselves after they graduate and move from job to job.

However, it would be very tasking for graduate students who have never been away from home or for those from overseas to find affordable off-campus housing. Finding a reasonable living environment is a process that takes weeks of searching and negotiating that may ultimately affect education and the decision to attend MIT. This is why there must be good resources for graduate students, including a helpful off-campus housing office and graduate housing for those who need it.

Graduate students are an important component of the MIT community.They bolster our advancing research, teach us the shortcuts to problem sets, share with us their past experiences, and most importantly, they inspire those of us who plan to follow in their footsteps. Providing undergraduate housing is a priority, but it is also necessary for the administration to deal with the needs of the graduate students. Housing must be available for those graduate students who cannot afford the increasing costs of off-campus housing.