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You Are Not Special

Guest Column Wally Holland

Chancellor Bacow’s report is, after many months, finally on newsstands. According to The Tech, the report went through the Academic Council last week; that it is being released on the last day of classes, then, is confusing and frustrating. While the timing of the report is horrid, its content is utterly fantastic. In the short time I’ve had to review the proposal, I’d like to briefly draw attention to a few points which merit discussion.

In the “Weaknesses of the Current System” section, Bacow writes that the current housing system creates intense loyalty to one’s living group. On this point I agree. He then claims that “this loyalty is a product of a system that fractionates each class a few days following arrival on campus. People bond immediately to their living group.” I’d offer a simpler explanation: that people who choose their own communities will pick people with whom they get along.

Bacow continues, “However, this loyalty tends to be at the expense of a larger sense of a campus-wide community.” If small communities exist only at the expense of large community, then the administration should clearly not stop at breaking apart living groups. They should also attack MTG, the Assassin’s Guild, the Chinese Students Club, and LSC. After all, these communities also attract student loyalty and distract students from more important campus-wide community activities such as pep-rallies and alumni donation telethons.

Bacow claims that the current system forces students to make decisions about their living groups hastily, without the benefit of in-person experience. This claim is used to justify an October rush and twice-yearly housing lotteries. But the problem isn’t limited to living groups! Since many prospective students choose this school after only a pre-frosh weekend worth of visitation, clearly such decisions are also misinformed. Perhaps we should require students to live at MIT for a year before being forced to attend classes here; in this way we can make sure that every student makes the right choice.

Bacow talks at length about rejection and its negative impact on MIT students. However, his proposal does nothing to remove the potential for that feeling of rejection; it merely shifts the timing of this “darker side” of the residence system by two months, into that relaxed period right before midterms. It also begs the question of whether these feelings of rejection are as significant or widespread as he claims. Is it really the administration’s job to shelter students from what we all know to be an everyday social phenomenon?

Bacow demonstrates his knowledge of digital media with the stunning claim that with “digital cameras, streaming video, and chat rooms, it should be possible to give prospective students are relatively complete picture of life in the dorm”. There is no nice way to put it: this statement is completely ridiculous. If chat rooms and webcams can give a complete picture of life at MIT, why do we bother with pre-frosh weekend or Orientation? In fact, why bother coming to school at all when we get the full benefit of life here over the web?

Bacow places much emphasis on the needs of students who want a permanent residence before they arrive; however, one has to look in a footnote on page 19 for his admission that he has no idea how many students will take advantage of this consideration. On the other hand, we know that 100 percent of current resident students came here without knowing their new address, email or otherwise. However, if it is a problem, MIT is quite capable under the current system of notifying the freshmen of their temp dorm assignments weeks in advance.

On page 22 Bacow warns that, by delaying rush well into the academic year, “potential exists for the entire fall to become a de facto extended rush.” He then goes on to recommend that rush take place during late October -- where it has the potential to distract from midterms. In essence, the first half of the year becomes “de facto extended rush.” More heartening is Bacow’s praise of the FSILG system: those houses have “served us well over the years.” It’s good to know that they’re appreciated, especially when footnote 27 says, “FSILGSs have come and gone in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.”

One reason for the Back Bay fraternities’ existence, Bacow notes, is the “large number of women students in [Boston] colleges.” While proximity to attractive co-eds has historically been a concern in major real estate purchases, I would venture to guess it’s no longer a deciding factor in most men’s living group choices -- among other things, I’m sure that most gay brothers would take some issue with Bacow’s comment. Any implication that fraternities should move back to campus because there are more women there is a comment worthy of The Boston Globe.

Bacow’s report misses its chance to be part of a solution to our graduate student housing problem. In my estimation, this makes him part of that very problem.

Larry Bacow’s report is another step in our Institute’s march toward homogeneity. As our student culture continues to be endangered, we are losing the things that make this place genuinely special. Whether you agree or disagree, you owe it to your community to be at Bacow’s presentation today at 5 p.m. and make your voice heard. If nothing else, show the administration that you are listening, and that you have something to say.

Finally, I would like to thank Chancellor Bacow for setting me straight on a potentially very confusing issue. Whereas I had thought that MIT students actually liked some feeling of stability, or of being part of a community with a larger history, he corrects my error: “the only tradition that is truly honored at MIT is change.” I’m glad he thinks so. That “tradition” is upheld by his report, to be sure; by turning his back on the most-loved residence system in American universities, he has nicely filled the role of “agent for change”.

Wally Holland is a member of the Class of 2001.