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Up With Drop Posters!

Guest Column Peter A. Shulman

I was dismayed by “Drop Posters May Be Replaced” [January 23], in which The Tech reported the debate over the future appearance of Lobby 7 and its housing of drop posters -- or not.

Both Professor Reiter and Director Gallagher miss the point. In his reference to Lobby 7 as “the front door to MIT,” Reiter calls for a lobby that “should be very streamlined and contemporary.” Gallagher calls drop posters “not respectful of the space, quite frankly.” The article then describes some kind of (surely expensive and nonexistent) electronic projection system to replace drop posters.

Are they serious? Not respectful to whom? Must the Administration control every form of student expression on campus? Whose Institute is this, anyway?

Hey students, wake up. These quotes aren’t from one interest group among equals -- these are the people making the decisions.

MIT is not a large, multinational organization, and its main lobby should reflect what makes it unique (its students) and not a forced sterility and impotence more appropriate for the corporate world.

And the cost? Perhaps the expected donations and Institute funds (ten of thousands of dollars? more?) expected for this myopic plan might instead be invested in the student life and learning initiatives so desperately clamoring for support -- student activities, a dining system that works, permanent solutions to dorm overcrowding, better financial aid packages -- than in this superficial and self-indulgent architectural plan.

Before anything else, the Institute is a place of learning -- not simply for its more than 10,000 students and nearly 1,000 faculty, but for the myriad of staff, administrators, and visitors who lay claim to our shared intellectual treasure. But more than anything else, what distinguishes our campus from its corporate colleagues is the vibrancy of student life that pulses through its corridors and courtyards. Though a seemingly minor manifestation of that life, drop posters actually form one of the few visible reminders that we live and work, discover and innovate, create and experience -- in a place of learning. Until their “temporary” suspension for the lobby’s renovation last year, drop posters captured the spirit of student activities, alerted regulars and visitors to the coming week’s events, provided income for the service organization that provided the raw materials at a nominal fee, and more than anything else -- humanized the stark neoclassical skeleton of the Institute.

As Building 7 memorializes the Institute’s illustrious founder, William Barton Rogers, perhaps we could turn to him for guidance. In a letter to his brother Henry written during the hectic but electrifying first year that MIT opened its doors in Boston in 1865, Rogers noted his frustration for having to handle (while simultaneously teaching the first class of MIT students and administering the fledgling university) the construction of an additional story to what was then MIT’s sole building: “These architects,” wrote Rogers, “are great plagues when they persist in disregarding utility for the sake of their notions of outside appearances...”

It’s time to remember Rogers’ vision for a place of learning. I think it’s time students start putting up drop posters again. It’s not only their university, you know -- it’s their home, too.

Peter A. Shulman G is a former president of the Undergraduate Association.