The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 64.0°F | Rain Fog/Mist

Ashdown Fighting Clay Plan

By Harold Fox


Graduate students reacted strongly this week to the proposal of Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75 to house 140 undergraduates in graduate dorms to relieve overcrowding. Ashdown students in particular were up in arms about a proposal to section off a portion of their dorm for undergraduates.

“It is recognized among undergraduates and graduate students alike that Ashdown is the center of the graduate community,” said Jennifer M. Farver G, Ashdown House president and co-chair of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) Housing and Community Activities Committee.

Hundreds of students have signed a petition protesting the use of graduate dorms to house undergraduates. Posters have been placed all over campus, and a huge Christmas light banner has been hung over Ashdown’s front courtyard proclaiming, “Save Ashdown.”

Many concerned graduate students and organizations have written to Clay to plea their case. On Friday, he responded with a long e-mail addressing some major concerns.

“We will be working with the housemasters, the leadership of the house, and with others to address the concerns voiced, including finding alternatives that minimize impacts or that represent creative ways to advance our mutual goal of community life,” he wrote. “Ashdown residents are not the only ones with a stake in what we do. However, to the extent we create a risk to what I agree is a valuable and strong community at Ashdown, we will work hard to mitigate or eliminate that risk.”

Discussion to occur Friday

On Friday, the housemasters of the graduate dorms, the GSC, and other interested observers will meet in Clay’s office. The GSC hopes to form a working group to address the problems facing all of the interested parties.

“We want a working group to meet and figure out the best option which minimizes the impact on the graduate housing system,” said GSC President Dilan A. Seneviratne G.

“We want to get answers to questions like why Sidney-Pacific is not an option, is there a possibility of a subsidy for those displaced, and what his criteria are for meeting the overcrowding requirement,” he said.

Graduate student leaders have been particularly upset with the feeling that this problem was sprung on them in the last minute.

“The problem of undergraduate crowding has existed for many years,” Farver said. “They have known since 1998 that there would be this problem. They waited until the eleventh hour to announce that graduate beds would be used to alleviate crowding.”

Clay insists that all proposals are in a preliminary stage.

“My outline of the problem and invitation to make input was open and honest. I shared my bias but not in a way that would foreclose input or lead someone to think the matter was all settled,” Clay wrote in his e-mail.

He also stated that the original Feb. 12 deadline for making a decision no longer exists, so that the dialogue process could continue.

Alternatives to Ashdown exist

Grad students argue that there are a number of viable alternatives to housing the excess freshmen in Ashdown. They could be housed in other graduate dormitories such as Sidney-Pacific or Tang. The former will open in the fall, and the latter only houses first-year students, so neither has a community to displace if freshmen are housed there next year.

Another alternative would be the graduate dorms could absorb only seniors applying for M. Eng. spread thinly among all of them

Ashdown residents, however, believe that it would be disastrous to take away 40 percent of their building.

“Sidney-Pacific probably will have a graduate community in a few years, but it doesn’t at the moment,” said fourth year Ashdown resident Ron O. Dror G. “It takes a long time to build [a community], and you can destroy it very easily.”

“The issue the administration has to be cognizant that they must compete with their peers,” Dror said. “Stanford houses over 60 percent of its graduate students, and they recently invested $200 million in graduate housing.For many top students, quality of life is the top priority.”

Farver also referred to Ashdown’s dependence on first-year graduate students. Ashdown residents fill around 50 officer positions while trying to acquire points to move up to the scarcer singles and large doubles. If Ashdown cannot accept as many new students, it will not get as many ambitious officers, who play a vital role in the graduate community.

Another concern for current residents of Ashdown is the survival of Ashdown’s Thirsty Ear Pub, another important part of the graduate community, whose presence in the graduate dormitory might be at risk if underage students moved into the dorm.

Ashdown survived past threats

If history can predict the outcome of this battle, then it is on the side of the graduate student community. The administration has proposed housing undergraduates in Ashdown twice before in recent history. In 1999, a steering committee proposed housing freshmen in Ashdown and moving the graduate students to MacGregor. In 1994, another committee proposed renovating Senior House and moving its student population into Ashdown. In each of these cases, Ashdown residents and housemasters met the proposals with concerted opposition, and they were eventually dropped.