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RSIT Punted

The past year saw a radical departure from a MIT’s time-tested residence selection system, a system that granted freshmen a power to survey and select their living quarters unique among college students. The process left nearly all parties frustrated. Fraternities and independent living groups struggled to manage an intense, multiweek rush during the first month of the classes. Houses received a fiercely unequal distribution of pledges, and more freshmen depledged this year than ever before. Theme houses struggled to attract as many residents as usual.

Frat boys and ILGers weren’t be the only ones to struggle with the process; dormitory residents, working to maintain and build community and character, had to accommodate individuals with commitments to living communities quite distant from their MIT-assigned bedrooms and semi-mandatory meal plans.

Dormitory residents resented a severely curtailed dorm rush in which only 85 freshmen relocated after arriving at MIT. The freshmen weren’t happy, either. A post-orientation survey found that overall, they were merely “somewhat satisfied” with the residence selection process. Certainly there remains plenty of room for improvement.

We engineers all expect any system-wide change to produce a few bugs on its first run. Everyone knew there would be kinks in the new system, and now it’s time to work them out. The Residence System Implementation Team was assigned to do exactly that. To this point, they have failed.

The RSIT clearly states its purpose on its Web site: “The charge of the Implementation Team is to create and enact the specific policies and programs needed to transition into the residence system described in the Design.” (That ominously capitalized “Design” refers to Tufts President, MIT alumnus, and former Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow’s famous 1999 residence report.) This team, composed of student and administrative representatives from every imaginable cubicle and corner of campus, had the task of putting together the program for this year’s rush, analyzing the good and the bad, and addressing problems encountered. The Jan. 13 draft of the RSIT report reveals that the team did not complete the tasks assigned to it; in MIT parlance, the RSIT punted.

The report, a blandly descriptive summary of 2002 residence selection, contains mostly survey data, minimal analysis, and zero prescription. The report concludes that the following tasks assigned to RSIT “need resolution,” i.e., were not addressed: what will happen during rush (“the appropriate and desirable length and structure of the residence orientation program”), and when it will happen (“the timeframe for the formal aspects of the FSILG recruitment process”). A Dormcon petition to reestablish a traditional dorm rush goes unmentioned. The team also failed, again by their own admission, to address the issue of room-squatting in dormitories, as well as ways to support theme houses that suffered under this year’s system.

The team concludes with a bald plea for someone else to do their work for them. What of the committee’s central task, crafting those specific policies and programs to transition to the new residence system? It is their “hope” that “those who have responsibility for specific aspects of the housing process will make use of the wealth of information to persist” in making rush work. While it is merely the RSIT’s hope, and may or may not be the administration’s fancy, it is cold necessity for the all MIT living communities, who should not and perhaps cannot carry the burden of another haphazard residence selection like that of 2002.

Rush 2003 is fast approaching. Calendars need to be set, strategies formed, and plans finalized. It appears that the administration is running rather behind schedule. Were the student body left to their own to manage residence selection procedures, they would likely not have a problem. Because the administration has chosen to forcibly involve itself in that process and has summarily failed to manage responsibilities it assumed, students, communities -- MIT -- will suffer.

Keith J. Winstein has recused himself from this editorial.