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Old Habits Die Hard

Tao Yue

Tomorrow will mark the end of an era.

At a quarter to one, the Class of 2005 will stand on the steps of building 10, facing MIT’s living groups across Killian Court. Some freshmen will be eager, some confused, some afraid, others indifferent. The words “Let the Rush begin!” will ring through the air, and the upperclassmen will walk (not run) towards the freshmen, trying to grab as many as they can before the gathering in Killian Court disappears.

But if MIT’s plans are completed on schedule, this Killian Kickoff will be the last. And not only will this class be the last to experience Rush as we know it, it will also be the last one to have a full year of Pass/No Record.

These changes were controversial when proposed, and it even been suggested that they will alter the entire character of MIT life. Housing all freshmen on campus will strip many FSILGs of new members, and Simmons Hall won’t provide enough rooms to avoid overcrowding. The end of second-term Pass/No Record will force all freshmen to worry about getting grades higher than a C, possibly decimating student activities. In fact, even former MIT President Paul E. Gray, known for some very unpopular changes in student life in the 1980s, spoke out against ending second-term P/ NR grading.

While these events were very controversial when proposed, the controversy seems to have died down. Problem sets and projects left no time to complain about impending changes. Last year, there was hardly any talk of the end of Rush. I know about the angry student reaction only from upperclassmen and The Tech’s archives. But I wouldn’t bet that MIT students are cowed; they’re just waiting for another issue on which to fight the administration.

After all, MIT students have a tradition of activism. The prospect of mandatory commons in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in massive student protests, sit-ins outside President Gray’s office, and general student dissatisfaction. Abolishing the traditional X-rated Registration Day film in 1985 led to weeks of angry discussion in The Tech, starting with flaming in letters to the editor and culminating in an editorial calling for the resignation of Dean of Student Affairs Shirley McBay.

This may merely prove that MIT students fight most fiercely for two human urges: eating and procreation. These are probably the same ones that our ape ancestors fought over back when a big black monolith (with dimensions of 1x4x9) dropped down on this planet and taught them how to use tools. But I’m digressing.

We don’t just fight for immediate needs. In the 1960s, students at MIT, certainly less liberal than those at Berkeley, protested the Vietnam War. There were riots on Mass. Ave., with police firing tear gas and arresting students. Older editions of “How to GAMIT” actually advised students on actions to take after getting arrested.

More recently, a spontaneous student occupation of The Dot, the circular piece of green grass in front of Building 54, derailed plans to build temporary offices on the grass. Just last term, angry students speaking at a forum thwarted plans to put Residential Coordinators in Senior House, which would have led to closer faculty supervision of students.

A cynic would point out that Vietnam War protests merely got Nixon elected, that the temporary offices were simply moved off the grass but are still in front of the Green Building, and that the RC position was renamed and planned for dorms other than Senior House.

But the situation isn’t all that gloomy. Student action sometimes does make a difference. For example, mandatory meal plans, though implemented in 1980 despite student protests, have given way to a dollar-for-dollar declining balance system. That’s a relief. Imagine eating Aramark food every day.

The important thing is not to give up. If students had accepted compulsory meal plans as irreversible, we’d be complaining about our plans just like students at other colleges do. Instead, we’re now happily buying meals at food trucks and, yes, even choosing to eat at Aramark dining halls, but only when we feel like it. We may have tired of fighting the upcoming change in Rush, but I have no doubt that any future attacks by the administration on student life will provoke student reactions which are just as strong as the freshmen-on-campus proposal did.

Tomorrow will be the end of an era, but it won’t be the end of the MIT student. The Class of 2005 will experience Rush and they’ll see, just as we did, why it is worth keeping. And more importantly, they will see that other aspects of the MIT experience are worth keeping.

The administration will do well to keep this point in mind. A generation of MIT students that has never experienced Rush doesn’t necessarily mean a generation of MIT students who will quietly accept all changes to student life. Isn’t it better to listen to student ideas and work with us to make student life better? Last year, The Tech’s editorial board praised Larry Benedict as the best friend students had. Maybe a day will come when we’ll be able to look at the MIT administration in general as the students’ friend. A friend with whom one has quarrels once in a while, but certainly not an enemy whose every move attacks students’ freedom of choice.

The Class of 2005 knows little of the conflicts MIT students have had with administrators. But it will learn. And, I’m sure, it’ll continue the MIT tradition of activism. Let’s hope the administration realizes that there’s no need to antagonize students. They are the alumni donors of the future. Tomorrow, the Rush will begin, but maybe it won’t be the last time those words are called out across Killian Court on an August afternoon.