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UA Ponders Science Fiction Library, ASA Group Space

By Raymund Dantes

The Undergraduate Association last night discussed a proposal by the Association of Student Activities to incorporate the the MIT Science Fiction Society Library into the fifth floor reading room, renovate the rest of the reading room, and turn the old MITSFS Library into group-oriented study space.

ASA representative Andrew Menard said that the MITSFS Library currently does not have enough space in the fourth floor of the student center to house its collection. The library is the largest open science fiction library in the world.

Menard said that since the reading room has unused space and is normally at less than 60 percent of seating capacity, except during the final exam period, the reading room could serve the same number of students if it were downsized by 50 percent and renovated to more efficiently utilize its space. The MITSFS Library could then occupy the other half of this room, he said.

The proposal was met with strong resistance by many UA council members, including UA President Josiah D. Seale ’03, who said that open, non-crowded space is what makes the reading room conducive to studying.

UA Councilors David M. Elihu ’05 and Nadja M. Yousif ’04 disapproved of removing academic space for leisure activities and having the group study space on the fourth floor, away from the reading room and Athena cluster. Councilors also said that simply renovating the reading room would attract more students looking for places to study.

“Is this (proposal) what students want?” asked UA President Josiah Seale. “It is hard to get an unbiased perspective, since both MITSFS members and reading room users feel so strongly on this issue.”

“The main issue is how do we make sure the space is distributed fairly,” Menard said. The MITSFS has over 200 paying members and is open to anyone. While it is unknown exactly how many students use the reading room, one UA council member estimated it to be several hundred, and possibly many more would use it if it were renovated.

The UA Council resolved to conduct an online survey of undergraduates and perhaps a town meeting to determine what the student body wishes to be done. Seale emphasized that the UA will go with whatever the students decide.

Menard noted that about half a dozen student groups are on the waiting list for available space. Due to its overcrowded library, the MITSFS has the most need for physical space, he said.

“The smaller issue here is whether this proposal is the right way to make more space. The larger issue is that there is not enough room for student activities,” Seale said.

Provost Brown speaks on finance

MIT Provost Bob Brown spoke about the financial history of the Institute. He emphasized the importance of the endowment fund, which grew from $1billion in 1990 to $6.6 billion in 2000, increasing the MIT budget and, as Brown mentioned, has brought MIT to the caliber of the Ivy Leagues and other top universities.

MIT President Charles M. Vest and other administrators chose to put this money towards building an environment to better attract top students and faculty, Brown said. Recently about $20 million per year has been spent on building renovations and construction of new facilities, including Simmons Hall, Sidney-Pacific Graduate Residence, and the Warehouse; the Zesiger Center, the Stata Center, and the new center for Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Growth has also made the Institute sensitive to fluctuations in the endowment. Since roughly a third of the annual income comes from investment returns on the endowment, the recent downturn in the economy has slightly devalued the endowment, slowed returns, and decreased the amount of money flowing into the MIT budget. While Brown emphasized that this will not dramatically affect current budgets, a continually struggling U.S. economy could cause future changes in MIT budgets and financial strategies.