Congratulations, freshmen, you’ve made it to the middle of Orientation. Dormitories are no longer scrambling to attract your attention, and fraternities can’t start spending their large budgets on steak and lobster dinners until Saturday. Now would be a great time to explore the various student groups that MIT has to offer.
The one hitch, though, is that the Association of Student Activities, nominally the governing body over all the student groups at MIT, has regulations that prohibit any student groups from advertising themselves to freshmen until the Activities Midway, late Friday afternoon.
These regulations are anachronistic and unnecessary.
In the last seven years, the format of Orientation has changed radically, but the ASA recruiting rules have failed to keep up. It used to be that dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups all rushed together in the first weekend. Thus, it made sense for student groups to refrain from intense recruiting until the Activities Midway, which occurred the following Tuesday. Most student groups didn’t have the budgets to compete with dormitories or FSILGs, and rush sapped them of any staffers they might have had for recruitment events anyway.
But times have changed. Dormitory residence exploration is now separate from FSILG rush, and the Activities Midway has been postponed to almost the end of Orientation. What was once a common-sense policy that let living groups and student groups each have their own times to shine has become an anachronism. Under these rules, student groups must compete against the much larger forces of fraternity and independent living group rush, and this year, sorority recruitment. (In the interests of full disclosure, note that The Tech is a student group.)
More fundamentally, the ASA recruitment regulations (http://tech.mit.edu/V127/N33/ASA-Recruitment_Rules_2006.pdf) are unnecessary, at least in their current form. What used to be an informal agreement to use common sense not to overwhelm the freshmen has devolved into today’s complex set of regulations, imposing a fraternity-rush-style ban on early advertising and events. Unlike fraternity rush, though, student group recruitment is not a zero-sum game. A freshman’s selection of one fraternity necessarily precludes his joining others; in contrast, with student groups, freshmen — indeed, all students — should be encouraged to dabble, explore, and find all of their passions, plural. Moreover, the rules, geared toward freshmen, unnecessarily block recruitment of new graduate students during the first part of their orientation.
These regulations also leave open the risk of accidental or intentional abuse by the ASA. The catch-all provision that the ASA executive board may broadly interpret the definition of “recruiting event” however it sees fit leaves a cloud over the operations of student groups who have regular events, which are supposed to be allowed by the rules, before and during Orientation. This provision has a chilling effect on legitimate activities by encouraging student groups to over-correct on the side of caution; no group wants the ASA executive board second-guessing and sanctioning its event choices.
The ASA should eliminate its complex and unnecessary recruitment rules. In addition, the ASA should advocate for the movement of the Activities Midway to earlier in the week, possibly by rotating the major daytime events of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Finally, the ASA should encourage student groups to use more of its early returns to help the new students of MIT explore more of their extracurricular interests before they get mired in class work. The purpose of the ASA is to foster the well being of student groups, not to strangle them in needless red tape.
Michael McGraw-Herdeg has recused himself from this editorial.