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Housing Committee Discusses RBA, Cultural Houses

This is the sixth of a series of weekly interviews with members of the Undergraduate Association. 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 members should be sent to the same week they are featured. Responses to these questions will be printed alongside the following week’s interview.

Arnaldo E. Pereira-Diaz ’09, chairman of the Committee on Housing, was interviewed this week.

The Tech: Tell me a bit about the Committee on Housing.

Arnaldo Pereira-Diaz: As our name implies, we deal with Housing. The big issues we’ll be dealing with this term, and which we will be addressing in formal reports next term, include Residence Based Advising and the report on cultural houses which was just released by the Housing Strategy Group. We’ll deal with some of the issues that the W1 steering committee is considering on Ashdown. … Pritchett Dining we’ll address together with UA Dining [Committee].

TT: This committee used to be the Orientation and Housing Committee. When and why was the split made?

AP: The split was made this year. The main reason was because we’ve had Simmons [Hall] built within the last few years, we’re having Ashdown built, and we’ll probably have a new round of dorm building in the next decade, so we want to stress the importance of Housing, while at the same time underscoring the importance of Orientation on it’s own. … Housing really needs its own committee to deal with the plethora of issues.

TT: Have there been any key changes that have taken place since the split?

AP: It allows reports to not focus just on [Residence Exploration], but with issues that the dorms face year wide. Even though this is something we’ll be doing together with Dining, we’ll look at Pritchett Dining.

TT: What’s been done with Pritchett?

AP: What we’ll be doing over IAP and the next semester [is] look at how people have been using it, and analyze if it’s working as it is right now. Depending on how people have been using it we’ll scale it up or scale it down.

TT: Concerning the report on cultural houses, was there a large reaction from the house residents?

AP: There was actually a report that HSG published in 2003, which was five pages. People from the cultural houses agreed with the report back then because it was in line with their point of view that the cultural houses are a special environment at MIT, and that in a way they’re different.

TT: Was that report less critical of the cultural houses?

AP: It was a lot less critical. The report right now puts the cultural houses in a de facto state of probation year round. Each house has to have a report, and if Julie [B.] Norman [associate dean of Academic Resources and Programming] doesn’t like your house … you can get the axe. So obviously the cultural houses have been critical of it. The issue has been raised that some of the factual data of the report isn’t exactly accurate, and we’ll be addressing that in our response to the report that we’ll put out in full next semester. We’re planning to present a summary of our objections at the next HSG meeting.

TT: In the mean time, will the UA be hearing from cultural house residents?

AP: This is going to discussion in the [UA] Senate, and we’ve already started drafting our response, just a preliminary version. … We’ll be checking the factual data to come up with a rebuttal for that.

TT: What kind of response have you heard so far?

AP: One thing that came up specifically was that the report tries to quantify the value that the cultural houses add to MIT. It says in the report itself that there’s no way to properly quantify that value, that it’s something more subtle than that. … Just a little bit later in the report, it says the value the cultural houses add is not enough. It says we can’t quantify it, but it’s not enough. Personally, I have a problem with that, and a lot of people have a problem with hand waving this issue away.

TT: Did you have any input into that report?

AP: We did not have any input in this report at all. It was two presidents of the cultural houses — about four students total that had input in this report. It was pretty secretive until the first draft came out at the HSG meeting this month.

TT: There have been some recent changes that the UA has discussed concerning RBA. How does your committee fit in?

AP: We will definitely look into it, not just how people are assigned to RBA, but the large scale issue of RBA itself. In the last decade, there have been a lot of UA reports stating that RBA is perhaps somewhat dated, that maybe we should do away with it, and that it takes up too much money. People don’t seem to like it that much. It’s a complicated issue because there’s a mixed response to RBA. For example, we had a survey a few weeks ago, Input-A-Palooza. We had a satisfaction scale from one to five. … The results that we’ve seen so far indicate that McCormick [Hall] was the lowest by nearly a full point. … We were trying to look at RBA in general but we see McCormick is pretty low on the list.

TT: That was how satisfied people were with the living conditions?

AP: How satisfied people were with their living conditions in general, and then we have more specific data – old Institute surveys – not to mention actually talking to people.

TT: Do you remember any specific things that people were questioning in McCormick?

AP: A lot of people were upset about how difficult it was to move out. That was a concern from several people at Next House. It seems to be that if you want to move out it’s damn near impossible.

TT: Is the Housing Committee involved at all in the transition of Ashdown and W1?

AP: As of now we do not have any direct involvement, apart from together with Dormcom choosing people to sit on the W1 steering committee, who will take care of most of the practical issues dealing with transitions and the building itself. Next semester we’re going to have a forum on Ashdown in which we’ll be collaborating with the W1 steering committee to get speakers and deal with some of the more sticky issues.

TT: What are the sticky issues?

AP: Definitely the lottery system and anything that is new in a way, for example, a residential scholars system might be one thing that would stand out. Or if it was proposed to be a RBA dorm, that would stand out. Another thing that might or might not stand out is if The Thirsty [Ear Pub] is actually moving. The Thirsty is actually moving because of the GSC. We might actually propose that there be [a bar in W1]. That might be sticky, not because it would fly, but because people might actually be interested in it, and because it’s controversial.

TT: Do you have anything on your plate before the end of the semester?

AP: Definitely publishing the full results of Input-A-Palooza and getting that survey out and the results distributed.

TT: Besides how satisfied people were with their housing assignments, what else was asked on the survey?

AP: It asked about dining, rooming assignments, and what factors helped people choose their current dorm. It asked if they preferred free long distance phone service in their rooms. … It definitely asked about RBA. Most of the issues we want to deal with were included in this survey in one form or another.