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Committee Considers REX Schedule, Advising Policy

This is the fourth of a series of weekly interviews with members of different Undergraduate Association committees. These interviews will be conducted by The Tech’s news editors and members of the editorial board. A UA representative will be present during these interviews as well. Questions for the UA committee members should be sent to uaqa@the-tech.mit.edu the same week they are featured. Responses to these questions will be printed alongside the following week’s interview.

This week’s committee is the Orientation Committee. The Tech talked to committee chair Andrew P. Spann ’07 (also a Tech cartoonist) and UA President Andrew T. Lukmann ’07.

The Tech: Tell me first about the Orientation Committee. What is your purpose?

Andrew Spann: We have about a dozen members. Our goal is to be a policy and advising committee on all things Orientation related. This includes both getting opinions from students and working with administrators, such as on the SLOPE Orientation planning committee and [Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming]’s fall planning meeting sessions as well.

TT: Is the Orientation Committee a yearly thing?

AS: It used to be the Committee on Housing and Orientation in years past. This year there are two separate committees. In years past the committee had a dual focus, so one [aspect] wound up getting slighted. In some ways there is a little bit of overlap but they are distinct enough that it merits having two committees, and I think more is getting done by having distinct committees.

TT: What has the Orientation Committee been working on this year?

AS: We just got through writing this report on Orientation. It runs about 30 pages plus appendices. To make this report we talked to Robin Smedick [assistant director of Housing] … and got the survey results that the Department of Housing ran.

Whenever freshman enter the housing adjustment lottery or confirm their current assignment they fill out a survey. We got those results. We conducted two surveys on our own. One [survey was] aimed at freshmen where the week of October 9-12 we visited five dorms handing out donuts and having a paper survey meant to supplement the Department of Housing survey with a few questions that had not really been looked at as much. We had some really broad free response big-idea type questions. We had questions about the effects of residence-based advising on Residential Exploration. We had questions about the Boston T Party which was a new event this year, so no questions before exist about it. We also had a page on [fraternities, sororities, and independent living group] questions. And then we had an online UA upperclassmen survey the week after that which had basically the free response questions on the first page of the freshmen survey given to upperclassmen.

TT: Before we get into the results of the survey, do you think your method of gathering input was effective? Are there any ways to improve it?

AS: We already had from the Department of Housing a lot of statistical multiple choice data. So one thing that we went with then for the new UA surveys was a lot of free response emphasis. The idea being that … you give people completely unconstrained questions and see what they say. … If we have a lot of people who just gravitate toward the same answers, I think that says a lot. The downside is that if you give people free response questions, a lot of people skip them or say “No, I’m not filling out this survey.”

TT: I wanted to ask you first about the RBA program. That seems to fall somewhere between housing and Orientation. Who is going to pursue it?

AS: Our concern is not RBA as an advising system. Actually the Student Committee on Educational Policy [is] looking at this as an advising system, and they are going to have a report on advising coming our later in the year. Our only concern with RBA [is] only its relation to the Residence Exploration period and its current restriction that you cannot participate in the housing adjustment lottery if you are placed into an RBA dorm over the summer housing lottery. … By no means am I trying to overstep my authority and mess with the advising system as a whole. I know a lot of people work very hard at making that an effective advising system and we think that a lot of dissatisfaction comes from this one particular Orientation related restriction and that’s what we’re looking at.

TT: Where is the report available, and how many people responded?

AS: The report is available on the UA Web site. The freshmen survey was 104 respondents, about 10 percent of the freshmen class, comparable to SCEP’s advising survey. The upperclassmen was 62 respondents, which is a little less than what we hoped for. It does cover all 11 dormitories and representatives from the fraternities, sororities, independent living groups, and off campus. The fact that it was all free response, we got a couple of responses saying “Why did you make this all free response? I hate you people.”

The upperclassmen survey was done last, so between the Department of Housing survey which has hundreds of freshmen [responses] and our freshmen survey that is where the bulk of the recommendations come from. The UA upperclassmen survey was really just supplementing things what we already knew from the other two.

TT: So you just looked at this year’s freshmen survey, or did you go back?

AS: The report does not cover last year’s freshmen survey. I certainly have read last year’s housing statistics but as far as trying to comment on changes that rise over many years, no. We mostly focus on looking at the free response comments on that because the Department of Housing already released a couple page cover sheet with the statistical results from the survey. What we’re focusing on is what has not already been reported to administrators.

TT: Since there were so few responses, do you think the respondents were just people who were unhappy with Orientation – that maybe it’s not very representative of the opinion of students?

AS: The upperclassmen survey could be argued to be more polarized. With the freshmen survey, the five dorms that we went to, we got decent cross sections out of. It’s a bit unfortunate that this was the week of the first 8.01 exam. I know certainly for Next House this did hurt our turnout because it was the night before the exam. … I had no idea until I showed up and people started telling me that there is a freshman physics exam that everyone was at office hours for.

TT: What is the plan now that the report has been issued?

AS: We are going to be working with the UAAP and with SLOPE in the spring in setting the Orientation schedule. We’re going to get one or two committee members on those boards.

TT: In the past, when you’ve had these committee members on these boards, how many changes have actually been instated?

AS: I don’t have as long of an institutional memory of the old committee on housing and Orientation, my background is actually in the UA Senate. I was on the SLOPE committee last year, so I’m more familiar with how SLOPE works and the negotiating process on that. I am not as well versed on UA history.

TT: When you read the reports from last year and the year before, do you see any of these changes in the newer schedules?

Andrew Lukmann: This is the first time in the last few years that there actually has been a comprehensive report. There has not been a similar document last year or the year before. That’s part of the greater UA effort to get committees to actually write down their recommendations.

TT: How many people are on Orientation Committee?

AS: About a dozen.

TT: There seems to be a trend where people come to CPW and do what would normally be Orientation activities.

AS: That actually is mentioned in the report. We do not make any policy recommendations concerning that. We certainly note that, and we suggest that people keep that in mind and investigate the effects, whether they are positive or negative. We certainly don’t want to pose any additional restrictions on CPW; we think it’s managed very well. We think people should be aware of the fact that CPW is … taking on some Residence Exploration aspects. It may be that people are not as satisfied with the amount of time they have during Residence Exploration. People are going to tell their prefrosh that they should go and look around at dormitories. In some respects, people should really be considering MIT as a whole, as whether you want to attend MIT or not. Getting a good feel of the dormitories can tell you a lot about MIT but if CPW becomes more import to REX than REX itself, then I think this does become a problem in the long term.

TT: What was the consensus on the T Party?

AS: When asked should an event be held like this next year in the freshmen survey, 86 percent said that it should be held again. We did have a decent number of comments in the upperclassmen survey from people who expressed concerns that interaction between the ASA pre-activities midway regulations and the Boston T Party did not pan out so well. We should certainly clarify how groups are allowed to communicate to students at this event and how this interacts with current restrictions from taking student names or postering before the Activities Midway.

TT: Was there anything in the report or survey responses that surprised you?

AS: There was one thing that surprised me. … In the summer housing lottery, if you look at the pick that people got, whether they got their first second or third choice in the summer housing lottery versus whether they were likely to request a readjustment in the housing adjustment lottery, you have about 11 or 12 percent of people who got their first place choice asking for readjustment in that. [Of] the people who got their second place choice, about 30 percent of people [asked] for readjustment. [Of] the people who got their third place choice we only got about 7 or 8 percent asking for readjustment, because out of the people who got their third place choice only 13 of these 75 people were put in a non-RBA environment. So out of the people who were eligible to move in their third place choice, 38 percent of those people moved, or requested to move. It’s interesting if you just look at it that way, the curve appears to bend backwards when there really is a rational explanation for it if you dig a little deeper.