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Undergrads Criticize New MIT ID, Lack of Voice in Decision Process

By Kelley Rivoire

Some students have vocally criticized the new designs for MIT’s personal ID cards, saying the cards inadequately represent MIT and are too cartoon-like. However, others have praised the design’s colorful style, which allows for easy identification among types of card users.

The designs were posted on the MIT Card Office Web site and were approved by the Card Council, a committee comprised of MIT community members; nonetheless, the changes came as a surprise to many students.

“I wish that students had known what was going on before now,” said Jessica H. Lowell ’07, Undergraduate Association vice president and East Campus senator. She said there had been “at least a few dozen” complaints on East Campus and Senior House e-mail lists. An e-mail regarding the card designs was also sent to a Next House discussion e-mail list.

Members of the Card Council generally approved of the new designs, and said they were surprised at the negative reaction from some students.

Prior to recent weeks, John M. McDonald, associate director of Enterprise Services and member of the Council, said he had heard only favorable comments about the new designs.

Joseph F. Gifun, a member of the Council and assistant director of facilities for infrastructure and special projects, said in an e-mail that he was “more concerned about the function of the card as opposed to its aesthetics,” and had asked questions about easy identification and cost effectiveness.

Undergraduate representative for the Card Council Manisha Manmohan ’08, who has compiled police logs for The Tech, said “I do take responsibility for not getting enough input … It was my job. There’s definitely a failure on my part.” However, she said, “I definitely feel that there are other issues that came up that have more substance.”

The Card Office sought a new set of designs to reduce printing costs by switching to a different printing process. The change will reduce the cost of printing a card from $7 to between $3.50 and $4.00, McDonald said.

Representatives appointed by the UA to committees such as the Card Council have had little oversight and few opportunities for formal feedback, something the UA plans to change in the upcoming semester. The Nominations Committee “really want[s] to have a web-based forum” for student advocates to committees, said Mitra Lohrasbpour ’07, the 2004-2005 NomComm chair. Committee representatives will also be required to give monthly updates, she said.

Unless they are requested, new cards will not be issued to current card holders. The new card will definitely roll out in August, but the Card Council would collect additional feedback during the fall, and consider another redesign, McDonald said.

Designs, process criticized

To allow for fast identification, the new card designs use words and background patterns to differentiate among five categories of users: students, faculty, employees, alumni, and spouses or partners.

The designs in general are brighter and feature more colors than the old designs, which used a dark gray and maroon for student ID’s. The changes are not well received in all quarters, however.

The new designs are “kind of gaudy,” said Benjamin J. Bloom ’08, an East Campus resident. “I was just surprised that they’d do something like this. I thought it was going to be more of a traditional card,” he said. He sent a complaint via e-mail to the Card Office and the Publishing Services Bureau, which designed the cards.

Grace E. Kenney ’07, also an East Campus resident, said the designs “lack seriousness” because of the boldly-colored bottom stripe, that the cards feature colors different from MIT colors, and that they “don’t really seem to evoke MIT.”

Students also decried their lack of representation and involvement in approving the card redesign.

“People on campus should know what’s going on,” Kenney said, and obtaining feedback from students via e-mail or a survey would have been “really easy to have.”

A preliminary form of the new design was first proposed at a Feb. 1 meeting of the Card Council. The final versions were presented at the May 3 meeting of the Council, and committee members were given sets of cards to show to others, McDonald said. “We’re trying to put this information out to everyone,” but either the mechanism for feedback wasn’t right” or the “people we were inviting weren’t the right people,” he said.

Card Council members themselves expressed satisfaction with the new cards, including the new designs.

Manmohan, who attended both the February and May Card Council meetings, said she showed the designs to a few people that she knew, as she did not realize the designs would be so controversial. She said she was more concerned at the time by other matters discussed at the May meeting, such as a request to allow DAPER to digitally view images of cardholders who enter athletic facilities, which the committee is currently addressing.

The Graduate Student Council representative to the Council, Hector H. Hernandez, said that he presented the card designs to the 50 to 60 attendees of the June 2 GSC meeting, and received “very favorable comments.” The graduate students he spoke to “like the distinctions” of the new card, he said. The new cards are secure and cost-effective, and allow for “more selection for who you are on campus,”

The Card Council is composed of representatives from the UA, GSC, Human Resources, Housing, DAPER, Libraries, the Alumni Association, Information Services and Technology, Facilities, the MIT Police, and the Registrar’s Office.

UA revamping student advocacy

This past semester, the UA began improving its mechanisms for student feedback and representation, and passed a Senate bill on student advocacy in February.

Harel M. Williams ’06, 2004-2005 UA President, said that “before last year, there were no protocols for any of this,” and it was not clear to student representatives what their rights and responsibilities were.

“I think they should definitely have to submit some sort of regular report,” perhaps to the UA Senate, he said.

Beginning this upcoming year, NomComm will send committee nominees a copy of their rights and responsibilities, Lohrasbpour said. “We’ve been planning this all year,” but “don’t have the infrastructure yet.” Committees are presently decentralized, with no main office, which makes communication “really difficult for everyone involved,” she said.

“Committees have to realize students need a chance to collect feedback,” Lowell said. “Committees should make more of an effort to get feedback from all students,” for example through web-based forms, she said.

The UA held a mandatory banquet last fall for student representatives, though only about half attended, Lohrasbpour said. At the banquet, members, including Manmohan, talked about what their committees had done. NomComm had planned to, but did not, hold a banquet in the spring, she said.

Alexander J. Werbos ’07, a UA Senator for Senior House and the incoming NomComm vice chair, said that he “would like to see better communication with the committees through Senate.” He said that during his two years as a Senator, no committee member has requested his help in gathering feedback.

“Students do not feel that they’re being well-represented on committees,” he said.

McDonald said that the redesign process began in the spring of 2004, driven by cost issues. Presently, the Card Office buys plain card stock from a vendor, has the color of the cards printed by a third-party company, and adds a user’s name, image, and ID at the Card Office on campus.

The process for creating the new cards would cut out the third party, with all printing done in the officeand the cost cut nearly in half.

Card for minors canceled

An MIT ID card program issuing cards to children of graduate students has been cancelled, because of a need to upgrade the card systems to match with the MIT Police.

The card program was developed to allow the police to identify minors who are children of MIT affiliates. The program, which began last fall with graduate students, will be reinstated eventually and available to all members of the MIT community, but there is currently no set timeline, McDonald said.