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GSC, UA Select Adv. Board to Hockfield

By Kelley Rivoire


The Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council have selected the new Student Advisory Board to MIT President-elect Dr. Susan Hockfield.

The board, composed of 12 undergraduate and 12 graduate students, will meet with Dr. Hockfield several times this semester to brief her on the issues facing MIT students, and plans to provide opportunities for input from all students in the spring, said Barun Singh G, president of the GSC and co-chair of the Board.

Goal to aid Hockfield’s transition

The Student Advisory Board came about as a result of the success of last year’s Student Advisory Group, which provided input to the MIT Corporation presidential search that selected Hockfield.

There was a “general consensus that [the Student Advisory Group] worked out really well in getting student input,” said Singh, and the Student Advisory Board was then created with Hockfield’s approval.

The purpose of the Board is to help “the new president transition into [her] role here,” said Singh. The goal is to “find a way to let Dr. Hockfield know what students consider to be the larger overlying issues” that affect them, Singh said.

“By the end of this term, the president will know what MIT is all about from a student perspective,” said Harel M. Williams ’04, president of the UA and co-chair of the Board.

Board members will present all the different viewpoints on a given issue, “even if there’s a disagreement,” said Williams.

Diversity sought in Board

Over 100 applicants applied to serve on the committee, Singh said.

Singh said he looked for individuals who were “motivated about making the Institute a better place.”

Williams said diversity in living group, gender, ethnicity, major, activities, and interests helped determine the composition of the committee.

“We kind of had to look at each individual application,” as well as the “group as a whole,” Singh said.

The committee was selected by its two chairs and vice-chairs, the presidents and vice presidents of the UA and GSC.

Board to meet with Hockfield

The Board will hold two or three lunches with Dr. Hockfield at the end of the month, said Williams. In addition, he said, the group will prepare an initial report for Dr. Hockfield reflecting the student perspective on MIT. He said this report will be amended throughout the semester, and will likely become public at the end of the semester.

In the spring, there will be an effort to involve the entire student body in the process, perhaps including open forums, said Singh.

Williams said that he also anticipates that the Undergraduate Association will hold also an informal student welcome with Dr. Hockfield in the spring.

Interest in keeping MIT culture

Several members of the Student Advisory Board hope to convey to Dr. Hockfield the need to preserve the uniqueness of MIT community and culture.

Eric M. Jonas G, a board member, said he believes the policies of the current administration have followed a direction tending to suppress student creativity and innovation, specifically regarding freshmen on campus and intellectual property rights of students.

“Things like hacking are integral” to drawing students to MIT, he said. He is “worried that we’re going to just become another Harvard” if the current trends continue.

Satwiksai Seshasai G, also a member of the board, said he feels one of the key issues facing Dr. Hockfield will be the need to “maintain the uniqueness” in what has become a “much more unified community” in recent years. He said that entrepreneurship and innovation should be encouraged, and cultivating such skills now would greatly help students upon their entrance to the workforce.

Graduate community a priority

Graduate student members of the board hope to encourage the formation of a stronger graduate student community.

Seshasai said that he would like to see further efforts made to include graduate students living off -campus in the MIT community, and that this would require “just some coordination and maybe some financial support.”

Board member and Vice Co-Chair of the Student Advisory Group Michael R. Folkert G cited graduate student cost of living and childcare as key issues. He would also like to see the graduate student community grow in part by building more on-campus graduate housing.

Russell E. Caulfield G, co-chair of last year’s Student Advisory Group and a member of the Board, said he hopes Hockfield’s record at Yale of addressing graduate student living and health care will continue at MIT.

Members have range of concerns

Xiaonan Lin ’06, a member of the board, said that she feels the main issues confronting Dr. Hockfield will be academic. She believes that “we should enhance research cooperation between the different departments,” in endeavors such as the Human Genome Project.

In addition, Lin said that she believes Hockfield must continue President Charles M. Vest’s involvement in female diversity of both students and faculty. Lin said that it will be important for the new president to explain “why MIT can’t really attract female professors” and determine what changes must be made.

Shreyes Seshasai ’08, the only freshman serving on the Board, hopes to bring his recent experiences as an applicant. He said he will also be able to provide Dr. Hockfield with an idea of “what it’s like with the present procedures for rush” and other events targeted to freshmen.

Folkert said as Dr. Hockfield has expressed a desire to spend time in Washington, he would “just want to make sure that she has a great working relationship” with the Chancellor and Provost, so that while she is out of town “someone else can effectively be president.”

Folkert also said that as a fraternity alumnus, he “would really like to see her help stabilize the fraternity system... If that fails, we’re going to have a housing crisis like we’ve never had before.”

Student input to Hockfield key

Members of the board believe Hockfield will be receptive to their suggestions, and hope that it will begin a strong relationship between Dr. Hockfield and MIT students.

“She’s had a really good track record of getting student feedback and working directly with students” Folkert said. “She’s going to spend a lot of time getting to know the students.”

Satwiksai Seshasai said that he hopes all students will make suggestions to members of the board. He said the “important thing is to show her that MIT students... have an active interest in changing the MIT community,” and that students should play a “vital part” in all decision-making processes.