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An Imperfect Solution to Crowding

No one knows exactly how MIT’s housing system will work next year, with all freshmen living on campus for the first time in Institute history. But at least one aspect of on-campus housing can already be foreseen -- MIT will need more on-campus beds for undergraduates than it can currently provide, even with Simmons Hall.

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 proposed last week that MIT use graduate housing for undergraduates, risking grad student anger. However, this represents the best available option -- reducing enrollment, leasing more housing, or allowing the crowding situation to continue are not viable options. Still, Clay is gathering community feedback before making a final decision, which is certainly a welcome change from recent MIT practice.

The current crowding situation is unacceptable. Clay found that over 400 undergraduates now live in crowded rooms, while others are affected indirectly. MacGregor House residents, for example, have lost many lounges to crowded doubles. Recent increases in freshman class yield have only aggravated the crisis.

While the administration cannot be blamed entirely for increased class sizes, it is certainly at fault for allowing crowding to get out of hand. By requiring freshmen to live on campus, MIT is raising the demand for beds without accordingly increasing supply. Crowding was a problem long before breaking ground on Simmons; the building could have easily been designed to house more than 350 students without crowds.

Since the freshmen-on-campus policy seems immutable, Clay is right to favor reallocating graduate beds to undergraduates, but this is an imperfect, temporary solution at best. This fall, MIT will face the “big crunch” of freshmen without FSILGs, making next year’s housing especially tight.

Clay estimates that such a solution could last three to five years, thus putting further strain on the graduate population and making MIT less attractive to prospective graduate students. Hopefully, spring rush for the FSILGs will reduce the number of students living on campus, and the beds will be returned to graduate students in the fall of 2003. Accordingly, Clay’s plan should be reevaluated next spring, based on the success of rush.

If graduate student housing is to be used for undergraduates, we recommend Tang Hall. Clay should not use beds from the new dormitory at Sidney and Pacific Streets, simply because it is too far from campus and too isolated from the rest of the undergraduate community. Tang, on the other hand, is located along the row of undergraduate dormitories on Amherst Street.

Furthermore, MIT needs to start planning its next undergraduate dormitory right away, rather than waiting another twenty years as it did between building Next House and Simmons Hall. MIT also needs to clarify which situations count as “crowded” in order to better understand the scope of the problem -- some students may already be in crowded rooms without knowing, or even caring.

By mandating that freshmen live on campus, MIT undertook a great responsibility to guarantee undergraduate living space. Ample dormitory rooms will help to attract graduate students and ensure that the freshmen-on-campus policy does not become a burden on the student body.