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GSC Tries To Keep Grad Beds

By Rima Arnaout

NEWS AND FEATURES DIRECTOR

Following a proposal by Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 to find space for 140 undergraduates in the graduate housing system, members of the Graduate Student Council are searching for solutions to the undergraduate crowding crisis that would not come at the expense of graduate beds.

“The next step is basically to get input,” Clay said. He said he was “actually quite gratified” by the e-mailed suggestions he has received so far. The memo was “deliberately sparse on implementation details” to allow for feedback, he said.

Ashdown likely solution

Although he is open to ideas from the community at this point, Clay said that the likely solution will be to house the 140 undergraduates in Ashdown house. Clay called Ashdown the “most appropriate as opposed to Tang, Sidney and Pacific,” or other graduate dormitories. He also thought that housing small numbers of undergraduates in the middle of large graduate communities like Sidney and Pacific would be “isolating undergraduates unreasonably.”

At a meeting between senior administrators and graduate housemasters last week, two proposals were pitched, said Ashdown Housemaster Terry P. Orlando. Orlando explained the proposals to residents.

“It sounds like currently the two options from where the 140 beds would come from would be Ashdown and Sidney-Pacific. As far as the Ashdown idea goes, the plan is to divide the dorm into two separate living groups with separate entrances and separate facilities. There’s just myriad logistical problems there,” said Ashdown President Jennifer M. Farver G.

At the time, the housemasters were led to believe that the Ashdown proposal involved housing freshmen only. Subsequent communications seemed to clarify that the plan involved housing a mix of undergraduates, not just freshmen, Orlando said.

Clay was adamant that whatever the final solution is, it will not include housing only freshmen in the graduate dormitories. “That would be a change in policy. We don’t have freshmen dorms. We don’t have freshman sections of dorms,” Clay said.

Clay also thought that the idea of a physical barrier within a dorm was unreasonable.

Students wary of temporary fix

Members of the graduate community fear that what starts out as a temporary solution for undergraduate crowding will become a permanent change to graduate dorms.

In terms of how MIT plans to phase undergraduates out of graduate housing in the three to five years promised by Clay’s report, Orlando is hoping for “something a little bit more definitive ... how to make the 140 beds go back to zero.”

“It’s not at all clear to use that that number won’t continue to increase ... because as long as MIT is drawing people away from the FSILG system, the number of undergrads living on campus is going to increase,” Farver said.

Clay explained that a long-term solution for undergraduate crowding would involved managing enrollment and making sure fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups are able to operate at their maximum capacity. Next year’s incoming undergraduates would not exceed 1000, he said.

Success will be harder to ensure for the other main component the administration is depending on to reduce the need for undergraduate on-campus housing, namely strengthening the FSILG system. “We’re going to try,” Clay said. “It is in our interest to do it, it’s in the FSILGs’ interest.”

Clay stands by the principles of supporting FSILGs put forth in a residence plan issued by former Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72. Within a few weeks Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and members of the IFC will be ready to announce the exact dollar amount and allocation of MIT’s pledged support.

Grad students resist plan

Graduate students oppose using any graduate housing, whether it be in Ashdown or the yet unoccupied Sidney and Pacific dorm, to alleviate undergraduate housing.

“There has been extensive discussion carried out by the individual graduate house governments in the residences to bring the students who are affected the most up to speed on what’s going on, and there was unanimous consent among students that 140 beds is too much to give up,” said Graduate Student Council President Dilan A. Seneviratne. Furthermore, mixing undergraduate and graduate students “would work to the detriment of both communities,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s a fair solution to use graduate beds to house undergrads,” Farver said.

Clay recognized graduate student opposition to using 140 of Sidney and Pacific’s 750 beds for undergraduates. As stakeholders in the residence system, some graduate students “think we should give them all of what we promised, but I think it’s fair to say that the issue [of crowding] was not new last week,” and that using graduate space temporarily was a possibility, Clay said.

Farver said that if the administration had wanted to alleviate undergraduate crowding, it should have used the money it put into Simmons Hall, for example, more wisely.

“Each bed Simmons cost four times as much as each bed in Sidney-Pacific,” she said. “It seems that money has been put into the undergraduate housing system, and [decrowding] hasn’t been an issue that was prioritized. Given that, it’s not clear then why grad students would be left holding the bag.”

Because a portion of graduate rents goes toward the graduate reserve, a fund for improving the system as a whole, “not only are we losing beds, but the system is losing money,” Farver said. Undergraduate rents, even if they were to go toward the graduate reserve, are lower.

Finally, students wish they had known earlier that graduate housing was being considered seriously. “Part of the problem with this whole issue has been the process,” Farver said. “February 12 is a very short amount of time to make a very important decision.”

While she wants to await hearing the graduate student perspective before giving her opinion, Undergraduate Association President Jaime E. Devereaux ’02 said she doesn’t like “the notion of breaking up the community that’s been established in Ashdown.”

Still, Devereaux sees “a couple reasons why undergraduates can be looked at in terms of [housing] priority.” MIT has made a commitment to house undergrads, she said. “Also, undergraduates do not have the same earning capacity that graduate students do” and therefore would have a harder time affording off-campus housing.

Roundtable to kick off process

Representatives from the GSC and graduate dormitories are planning a roundtable discussion with members of the administration next week.

The group will “look at the big picture of the problem and the nitty gritty details,” Seneviratne said.

Among the possible ideas to be discussed at the meeting is one to use the graduate beds for undergraduate seniors planning to do an MEng, and have those students remain in that housing as first year graduate students. “Some people have suggested that it would be better to have seniors in graduate student housing than it would to house freshmen ... I think that’s about as far along with that idea as we are right now,” Farver said.

Clay hopes to conclude the feedback period by Feb. 12. After a few days of consultation with Deans Isaac M. Colbert and Benedict, among others, he will announce the major elements of the solution. A finalized proposal is expected by the end of February, and must be completed by the time MIT describes next year’s tuition and housing situation to incoming students, in April.

Finding ways to relieve undergraduate crowding rose to the forefront after Jan. 11, when Clay wrote in an e-mail that space would have to be found for 140 undergraduate crowds. While other measures such as reducing undergraduate population and building more housing, he mentioned graduate housing as the most viable short-term option.

“We cannot announce new residence initiatives, new student initiatives, new dorms, and not address crowding,” Clay said.