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Clay Speaks About Community

By Sandra Chung


MIT Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 spoke to the Undergraduate Association Council about the Institute’s ongoing efforts to nurture a sense of community both on and off campus.

In last night’s speech, Clay stressed the importance of communication and experimentation in developing a community that is “not only more caring, but more empowered.”

“We have a bit of catching up to do in making sure that we offer as broad an undergraduate experience as possible,” Clay said. He added that the world expects a lot more of college graduates than good grades. Such skills as “insight, communication, ... and personal effectiveness” are fostered by community interactions of the sort that are lacking at MIT.

Clay’s definition of community is a concept that “is not limited to students, but encompasses alumni ... not limited to education, but encompasses the whole experience. Community is about ... having a voice.”

Clay tries to define community

Clay said that the term “community” is a broad idea, and emphasized the importance of openness to other definitions of community built around what is unique, valuable, and to be missed about the MIT experience.

Clay presented three alternate views of MIT community. “Some people would describe the MIT experience as a boot camp, and would say this is a community of survivors ... another view is that this is a community of scholars.” The third view was of MIT as “an infinite set of microcommunities.”

Isolation hurts MIT students

MIT proudly identifies with its diversity, Clay said, by splitting off into smaller and smaller groups to the extent that the cohesiveness of Institute as a whole suffers. The 1998 report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning found that “too many students were isolated,” according to Clay. The report indicated insufficient faculty-student relations, no connections to alumni, and “no active basis for everyday bonding” between students, faculty, and alumni.

Clay’s goals as chancellor included alleviating such ills. Microcommunities are not to be extinguished, Clay said, but strengthened. More importantly, separate groups need to “find a basis for having more things in common.”

Clay said “insufficient communication is a general problem.” Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict is in the process of setting up a web page that will make information from committees available to the community. The web site helps to address the need for community evaluation while preserving confidentiality. Clay also placed responsibility for increased communication on student leaders to generate discussion and the media to keep the public informed.

FSILG funding increases

Clay acknowledged that fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups may face hard times as a result of the transition to housing all freshmen on campus in 2002.

Since MIT does not own most FSILG houses, the Institute cannot enact physical changes to the houses themselves. However, Clay spoke of motions to make additional funding available to FSILGs. Though some existing funds have been historically allocated to FSILGs, the Residential Systems Implementation Team subcommittee is currently working on the creation of a “transition resource” to further increase MIT financial support.

Clay acting on Vest’s request

President Charles M. Vest asked Clay to lead the development of a unified concept of community at MIT. Clay’s appointment illustrates the importance of the concept to the academic and non-academic success of MIT students during and after their MIT experiences.