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Designing A New Pub Will Take Cooperation

Michael Rinehart

The reassignment of Ashdown House and the relocation of its residents reaches well beyond the understandable concerns of the Ashdown Community. The graduate student body must now consider significant sacrifices to their campus community because of the lack of graduate student input in the design for a new graduate resident hall.

One such potential sacrifice is quite dear to me, as well as to numerous graduate students across the campus. The Thirsty Ear Pub, the “Institution of the Institute,” has been a hallmark of Ashdown House for almost 25 years. The basement space in Ashdown has been used as both a pub and ice cream parlor for over 50 years. The Thirsty Ear was officially founded in 1982, when a group of Ashdown residents planned several events in the house that were legendary across campus. Seeing the success of their student-driven event planning, the Dean of Student Affairs approached this group of students about starting another campus pub, since at the time the Muddy Charles only operated during the afternoon. The MIT administration even provided $80,000 for equipment and renovations to help make this new campus business a success.

During this period, it has emerged as a hub for social interaction at MIT and as a core component of graduate student life. When the Thirsty Ear’s charter was rewritten in 2004, it was decided that the pub should service the social-development aspects of MIT’s Educational Triad in a way that no organization on campus provided at the time.

Those who attend the Thirsty Ear’s regular events can easily attest to its contributions to the MIT graduate community. Weekly Trivia Nights are one of the most populated and frequent trivia contests on the campus, and during Karaoke Nights it is typically difficult to find a place to sit. Additionally, the Thirsty Ear is the only comedy and live music venue on the MIT campus that features both MIT and Boston-based entertainers each and every week.

Clearly, the Thirsty Ear cannot co-exist with the undergraduate dormitory that is slated to overtake Ashdown House, and therefore it seems logical to continue its success in the up-and-coming northwest region of campus that is planned to become the new home of the graduate community. In fact, a number of graduate student leaders representing the residents of that region have over the years spoken in favor of establishing a similar pub in their community. After all, the Thirsty Ear provides a proven model for responsible alcohol service, community involvement, and graduate student governance. Ideally, the graduate students of The Thirsty Ear Executive Committee and the members of Campus Dining, Graduate Housing, and Student Life should cooperate on a new pub design and venue format that best meets the needs of the residents in the NW community.

However, although plans to convert Ashdown are certain, neither Student Life nor Graduate Housing has mentioned any concrete plans to construct a new pub to account for the loss of the Thirsty Ear. Is the administration planning to establish a pub in the NW area on its own terms, without graduate student influence in the process? I certainly hope not. The graduate students are the ones who best understand the needs of their community, and therefore it is in the best interests of MIT to include them in any such process.

Of course, TEEC does not believe the graduate student body should try to create a pub independently. Student Life and Graduate Housing each offer significant experience and resources that are necessary when establishing a business such as an on-campus pub. TEEC’s own coordination with Campus Dining, for example, has been enormously beneficial in the successful operation of the Thirsty Ear Pub. TEEC establishes programs and overarching operational codes; Campus Dining, acting through the pub’s part-time manager, provides the experience and practical underpinning necessary to make these ideas a reality. Our experience is proof that, when working in cooperation, students and administrators can produce great venues for building community.

TEEC believes that cooperation in an honest, trusting, and open environment is the key to progress. After all, its long-term commitment is to the graduate student body — we’re all volunteers anyway. When the administration is ready to work hand-in-hand with TEEC, we will be ready to listen and cooperate.

Let TEEC know how you feel about this issue — please send us an e-mail at ear-info@mit.edu. If you would like to learn more about the Thirsty Ear Pub, please visit us at http://web.mit.edu/thirsty-ear.

Michael Rinehart is a graduate student and the chair of the Thirsty Ear Executive Committee. He can be reached at mdrine@mit.edu.