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Graduate Rooms Could Be Used To Alleviate Undergrad Crowding

By Flora M. Amwayi

Despite the additional housing that Simmons Hall will provide next year, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 has recommended that graduate student housing be used to alleviate MIT’s undergraduate dormitory crowding problem.

Clay’s report, e-mailed to administrators and student leaders late last week, discussed the current state of crowding on campus, including causes and potential solutions. Clay explained that “currently we have 140 more undergraduate students than we have uncrowded resident hall rooms to accommodate them.”

Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine supported the report’s assertion that one of the best solutions so far may be to house undergraduates in graduate housing. Other ideas include reducing class size, purchasing more housing, or continuing to crowd. However, Clay stated in the report, “Considering all options, I am presently inclined to recommend that we use a fraction of the housing intended for graduate students ...” to address the crowding problem.

However, Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert said there were no good or bad options; each option had its own problems and repercussions that needed to be taken into account before deciding on which one would be most viable.

“Nothing definite has been decided upon and the discussion is still going on with the Chancellor,” Colbert said. He said the main purpose of the report was to spread information and gain feedback.

Hundreds affected by crowding

Although the number of crowded students looked small, Clay wrote, “the students affected by crowding include not only the 140 students but all of the other students who room with them.” More than 400 students are currently living in crowded rooms, and even those are not the only ones affected by crowding. “All of the students in the affected residence halls suffer the loss of lounges, study rooms and other spaces meant for community use,” Clay wrote. Clay could not be reached for comment.

Graduate housing debated

Students are already debating possible ways to alleviate crowding. “The only options are either to continue crowding or to assign part of the graduate housing to the students,” said Sean W. Kelley G. He said that he would be disappointed if the latter was implemented, but he would understand since “denying housing to undergraduates would be worse.”

While some would call such an action unfair to graduate students, Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict argued that the issue at hand was not fairness but rather the validity of the measures suggested. Benedict repeated Clay’s point that MIT has not built an undergraduate dorm in twenty years, while graduate housing has continued to increase with the addition of Green Hall, NW30 and Edgerton House.

Dormitory Council President Matthew S. Cain ’02 backed Benedict’s point that the issue at hand was not fairness but helping to alleviate crowding. “We need to take a step to help counter the problem. This may be a temporary solution but it might help out since it currently is the most viable of all the options we have to consider,” Cain said.

“It appears that Simmons ... will have little effect on crowding,” Cain said. Simmons will house approximately 350 students, roughly the same number of freshmen who normally live in fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

Redwine argued that the new graduate dorm at Sidney and Pacific Streets would still benefit graduate students, even with some beds going to undergraduates. “The net effect is favorable for graduate students,” Redwine said.

Colbert admitted that some graduate students would be unhappy. Cain supported this point, saying that despite the fact that assigning some graduate housing to undergraduate students would help reduce the existing crunch, it will not be good for the graduate students. “The undergrads themselves may not want to live in the graduate houses and it might be hard to convince them that it will be the same as living with fellow undergrads,” Cain said.

FSILGs another option

The possibility of using fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups to to alleviate crowding is also being discussed. The report suggested encouraging FSILGs to play a role in housing more undergraduates by taking steps to strengthen them. “We have not come up with specific steps we are going to take to make this happen since the idea was to encourage people to give their opinions on the issue,” Benedict explained.

However, Redwine said, “There is uncertainty in FSILGs recruiting people to relieve the crunch in housing and we cannot be sure if a step taken to help strengthen them will help them get more students.”

Cain was a bit more optimistic. “FSILGs will not rush freshmen but rush will continue and the chances of them recruiting upperclassmen are high,” he said.

Crowding worsened gradually

According to Benedict, the crowding problem has worsened gradually, as different stresses to the housing system compounded. For example, Benedict said, the closing of two FSILGs in the past few years added extra students to the system. Another factor was that more admitted freshmen matriculated at MIT this year. “We were very popular this year ... 1030 students came” instead of the expected 1000 matriculants.

Benedict said that the turning point in the crowding crisis happened in the fall. “What brought [the crisis] home this semester is that we ended up taking all the lounges in MacGregor” and making them doubles, Benedict said. MIT also made some quads in Baker House into quints, and crowded some New House rooms. “That clearly is not the living arrangement that that students can live in or thrive in,” Benedict said.

Miranda L. Priebe ’03, MacGregor House president, said the crowding situation was worse lately. “There has been a great demand on the resources we have and this has been going on for years. The student government has been working for long to try and initiate action,” Priebe said.

Clay and other administrators brought up the crowding issue at various meetings throughout fall term, including Academic Council and the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid. “At this point [Clay’s] thinking had been informed” by the many conversations, Benedict said, and Clay put the ideas and information into the report he sent to administrators and student leaders last week.

Report encourages feedback

The report asked its recipients, including the Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council, Interfraternity Council, Faculty Policy Committee, and Academic Council, to respond with feedback by Feb. 12.

Benedict said the report is not intended to let people know about policies that have been made but rather to open a forum for discussion on the issue of crowding that has been of great concern to faculty, students and parents. “Our commitment is to take necessary steps to eliminate crowding of residence halls in an effort to improve the living conditions of students by enhancing privacy and availing more space,” Benedict said.

Crowding affects many freshmen

How have students been affected by crowding? Samuel N. Gikandi ’05 was disappointed to end up in a lounge in MacGregor, especially after choosing the dorm to escape the crowding that was taking place in most of the other houses. MacGregor is comprised almost entirely of single rooms.

Nathaniel K. Choge ’02 added that the use of the lounge in his suite to house students for the whole semester deprived him of a study area where he could do problem sets with his study group and pull all-nighters whenever he had to. “I now have to get used to studying in my room and holding the group meetings in some other places,” he said.