Coordinator Debate Dominates Meeting
Several administrators and student leaders addressed student questions and concerns about student life at MIT during a town hall meeting on Wednesday night sponsored by the 2003 Class Council.
Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine, Undergraduate Association President Peter A Shulman ’01, and class of 2003 President Sina Kevin Nazemi answered questions dealing largely with the new residential coordinators program, which was accidentally revealed last week by an e-mail from Assistant Dean for Residential Programs Katherine G. O’Dair.
The heads of Dining, Housing, MIT Medical, Mental Health, Athletics, the Interfraternity Council, the Dormitory Council, and representatives from each MIT dormitory were also present at the town meeting.
Students focus on coordinators
Though the 2003 Council intended for the meeting to be an open forum dealing with many issues, the students present had other intentions.
Nazemi attempted to broaden the discussion, but was deterred when he realized that almost all of the students had the same agenda -- the placement of residential coordinators in dormitories.
Armed with notepads and printed drafts of the proposal for residential coordinators, disgruntled students voiced their frustration and anger over what they saw as a lack of input in the creation of the program.
“The administration respects the student body as a resource, but not as a participant,” said Jeremy H. Brown G. “To convince us otherwise, it must approach the students and say: ‘Here is an idea, help us flush it out,’ and not: ‘Here is what is going to happen, what color would you like it painted?’”
Benedict said that the exclusion of students from the decision process resulted from a lack of communication between students and administrators, and apologized for this. Shulman later said that he was not been told about this program before it was announced.
Benedict said he was amazed by the lack of communication despite the presence of so many communication channels between students, staff, and administrators.
In an effort to explain the placement of the coordinators among the students, the Director of Housing Operations, Karen A. Nilsson, said that “the planned space in Burton-Conner had been underutilized for the past 20 years.”
Benedict also emphasized that the coordinators are not there to spy on students or discipline them. Instead, the administrators will share the housemasters’ workloads, help with the 2002 housing transition, and train individual house governments.
He made it clear that fifteen new staff members will be added to the administrative system, a point which is not negotiable. “What is negotiable,” he said, “is how this program will be implemented.”
Upset that parts of the proposal appear to have already been finalized, students from Senior House accused the administration of being dictatorial and criticized administrative attempts to justify the situation after the fact.
Several graduate students in attendance stated their beliefs that student life has been degraded over the years as the administration has grown in size.
Feelings on meeting were mixed
Several student leaders and administrators indicated that the meeting was worthwhile and should be repeated.
“What happened here was exactly what needed to happen,” said Dormcon President Jeffrey C. Roberts ’02. “There are too many intermediaries like papers and student leaders. Students and faculty need to meet face to face.”
Sudeb C. Dalai, President of the Class of 2002, said that “the meeting was a great idea, and needs to happen a lot more often.” Dalai said that “people need to grow from these [meetings], it should not turn into a blame game.”
Redwine said that the meeting was very successful. “There was a frank exchange of views and information. Student expectations and remarks were certainly reasonable,” he said.
While some students commended the 2003 Council for a job well done, many students did not feel that the meeting was very useful.
“The town hall meeting was the most ridiculous waste of time,” said Christopher W. Porter ’01. “Benedict sidestepped every important question.”
Julie J. Hong ’03, who helped to organize the town hall meeting, was pleased with the turnout but said that “it’s unfortunate... that the meeting did not touch upon points like confidential Emergency Medical Transport, 2002 transitions, and dining, especially with Aramark’s contract coming up.”
Hong would have liked to hear the position of the UA and Dormcon on the issue of residential coordinators. “The administration often looks to the UA first. I am interested in what they [UA officers] had to say and how long they had known about it,” Hong said.
Nazemi said that “one meeting isn’t going to change much” and said that one positive aspect of the meeting “is that the administration now fully understands the ramifications of not involving students from the outset of a plan.”
Suggestions brought up at the meeting for improving communication between students and the administration included the electronic posting of the minutes of student-faculty meetings and the creation of a mailing list.
Benedict plans to meet with individual dormitories to address the issue further.