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MIT to Cut 250 Jobs, UA Reviews Flag Issue

By Keith J. Winstein

NEWS EDITOR

President Charles M. Vest addressed the Undergraduate Association Senate last night, discussing MIT’s financial health and his response to the “Ghetto Party” held at East Campus two weeks ago.

Separately, Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict will create a committee “to review the current policy in housing about not making any additions or alterations to our residence halls” in light of the current controversy surrounding flags hanging outside of student windows, according to text from Benedict’s charge to the committee provided by UA Speaker Yun-Ling Wong ’04.

Last night, the Senate voted to weaken and then narrowly pass a resolution calling for the housing policy to reflect “the sentiment of many undergraduates that the faÇade of dormitories is reasonable domain for personal expression.”

Vest: 200-250 layoffs to come

MIT’s budget is under “enormous pressure,” Vest said. “We’ve been through three years of not-at-all-good returns on our endowment.”

About 200 to 250 MIT employees will lose their jobs, he said, or about 2.3 percent of MIT’s about 10,800 employees.

“We don’t like to talk about it as a percentage, because if you’re one of the two percent, this is still bad,” he said.

Within a week, Vest said, MIT will announce a “very restrained salary situation” for MIT’s 2004-2005 fiscal year. “We will not have salary cuts,” he said.

“The effect is going to be about zero on the things you might be concerned about in student life,” he said to students on the Senate.

The 2004-2005 fiscal year “is going to be a really tough year,” he said. “We believe when we get through that, it’s going to be a return to a climb upward,” he said. But if the economy and MIT’s return on its endowment does not improve, Vest said, undergraduates could be more directly affected.

MIT in strong position, Vest says

“I think the Institute is in a very strong and good position today,” Vest said. “It has a lot of momentum.”

Vest cited MIT’s recent “enormous progress on improving the quality of our campus” -- naming Simmons Hall; Sidney-Pacific; The Warehouse; the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center; the in-progress McGovern, Picower, and Stata Centers; and the on-hold expansions of the Media Laboratory and the Sloan School of Management. “We will get there” on Sloan and the Media Lab, he said.

“Our research volume is growing very nicely,” Vest said, and “we have been pretty darn successful in our fundraising.”

“We’re at $1.7 billion right now,” in MIT’s $2 billion Capital Campaign, Vest said. The “primary goals” of the remaining $300 million will be “financial aid, graduate student supports,” and “quality of campus facilities and life,” he said.

Race is flashpoint for Vest, he says

In response to questions from senators, Vest discussed his condemnatory response to the “Ghetto Party” invitation sent to East Campus and Senior House student mailing lists two weeks ago.

The invitation, which employed racial stereotypes and has triggered controversy and forums on race relations, was sent to student-run East Campus and Senior House e-mail lists. The party organizers have apologized, saying they intended to make fun of gangster rappers, not to perpetuate stereotypes.

“Is race a flash point with Chuck Vest? Yes, it is,” he said. “I grew up in a border state, in West Virginia. I went to segregated schools until ninth grade.”

As an engineer and professor, Vest has been “trying to give people an equal opportunity in this land, and frankly I get tired” of negative stereotyping, he said.

“I felt I had to challenge the type of rhetoric, the type of environment that was being created” by the party invitation, he said. “It was a personal decision and a personal statement,” he said.

Harel M. Williams ’05 asked Vest whether his comments would improperly influence any disciplinary procedures for the organizers.

“I’ll have nothing to do with those processes if they play out,” Vest said. “I don’t know at any depth what rules may or may not have been broken.”

“In a realistic sense, I don’t think this is going to come to me,” Vest said.

Emphasizing that he was not being sarcastic, Vest said his comments condemning the party invitation were unlikely to influence MIT’s judicial processes. “I honestly don’t think anybody’s going to change what they do based on me,” he said.