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New Grad Dorm Will Allow MIT to Boost Undergrad Class Size

By Kelley Rivoire

The Institute’s recently announced plans to build a new graduate dormitory will allow MIT to increase undergraduate enrollment by about 100 students per year by moving undergraduate students into Ashdown House, currently a graduate residence.

The major factor constraining undergraduate class size is not a lack of academic resources, but a dearth of beds on campus, said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. Ashdown House, which presently houses about 360 graduate students, could be used as a residence for 450 undergraduate students, allowing MIT to increase its undergraduate population to the level of 10 to 15 years ago, with about 1080–1100 in each class, Benedict said.

In recent years, Ashdown has had trouble filling all its beds, as many graduate “students are willing to pay a lot more for their own bedroom,” Benedict said. Housing undergraduates in the building in double rooms would increase the capacity.

Though no final number has been set for an increased class size, the jump to about 1,100 students per class is something administrators are leaning toward, said Benedict, who emphasized that the Institute would first have to ensure that services like Mental Health and Student Support Services had the necessary resources before admitting more students.

“Everyone here wants to increase the class size,” said Dean for Admissions Marilee Jones, with many suggesting an increase of 100.

Additionally, moving undergraduates into Ashdown would add beds to the housing system and finally allow the Institute to end the Senior Segue program, which allows 10 percent of MIT seniors to live in graduate housing at undergraduate housing prices. The program was introduced in 2001 as a temporary measure to mitigate crowding in undergraduate dormitories.

Planning for both the new graduate dormitory and the undergraduate residence that would occupy Ashdown’s current space is still in the earliest stages, Benedict said. It is “very early in the process,” and many “questions haven’t been addressed” yet, he said.

Over the next few weeks, discussions about the new graduate dormitory’s community will begin, with representatives from Student Life Programs, Facilities, housemasters, and the Dormitory Council involved, Benedict said.

The new graduate dormitory will be located in the northwest part of campus, as recommended by a Housing Strategies study completed two years ago, and would expand the graduate community in that area. Because of zoning restrictions, the maximum capacity for the planned $104-million residence would be about 500 to 520 beds, Benedict said.

The decision to build the new graduate residence sends a “symbolic signal,” Benedict said, of a “firm commitment on the part of the Institute to graduate student housing.” Currently, demand exceeds supply for graduate housing, he said.

At Wednesday’s faculty meeting, MIT President Susan Hockfield said the new dormitory would help achieve MIT’s commitment to the City of Cambridge to house half of its graduate students on campus. A 2004 Housing Strategies report indicated that at that time, about 36 percent of MIT’s roughly 6,000 graduate students were housed on campus.

While the new graduate dormitory will likely have much higher rents than Ashdown, Tang Hall will be maintained as a comparably cheaper option for graduate students with tight financial resources, Benedict said.

Plans for Ashdown’s current space will not be determined for months, Benedict said. MIT’s report to the city presented last week, at which the new residence was announced, suggested that Ashdown might be used as swing housing while other undergraduate dormitories are renovated.

“East Campus is our top priority for … gut renovation,” with Burton Conner House also high on the list, Benedict said, though no plans have yet been set.

The 2004 Housing Strategies report also indicated that Random Hall and Bexley Hall might be closed over the next decade, but Benedict said no discussion about those possibilities would be initiated for some time.

Changing Ashdown into undergraduate housing would also enhance the undergraduate community by adding one more undergraduate residence to dormitory row along Amherst Street, Benedict said.

Following the completion of the 2004 report that recommended a new graduate dormitory, plans for the residence were stalled until last summer because of a lack of funding, Benedict said. After being approved by MIT’s president, executive vice president, chancellor, and provost, plans were firmed up by MIT’s building committee in December, he said, with the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation approving the new dormitory on February 3 as being in the planning phase.

Before construction can begin, another vote by the Corporation’s Executive Committee would be needed, Executive Vice President Sherwin Greenblatt ’62 wrote in an e-mail.

Following the February 3 meeting of the Executive Committee, Benedict said he began discussions with Ashdown Housemaster Terry P. Orlando about Ashdown’s relocation, with more details to be worked out in coming months.