Rumors have cropped up regarding plans to replace Burton-Conner’s kitchens with undergraduate rooms, though administrators claim there are no plans to do so. The rumors surfaced in the week before President Susan Hockfield’s Feb. 13 visit to Burton-Conner, prompting a petition, two bills by the Undergraduate Association, and a small flutter of e-mails across the bc-talk mailing list.
Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict said “there are zero plans” to remove Burton-Conner’s kitchens. “It’s all just rumor,” he said. “I told the UA that this isn’t happening.”
Despite his assurances, the UA passed two resolutions concerning Burton-Conner’s kitchens. Resolution 6.1 describes Burton-Conner’s kitchens as “focal points of the suite, floor, and dorm-wide community interactions,” and “indispensable to students.” The bill also states that the UA Senate “opposes any plans to remove [the] kitchens” unless residents are involved in the decision-making process.
“Even if this is just a rumor, we need to be proactive,” said Ruth Miller ’07, co-sponsor of resolution 6.1. Miller is the UA Vice President and also a Tech campus life columnist.
“We just wanted to be prepared,” said Ali S. Wyne ’08, UA Senator from Burton-Conner and a Tech opinion staff writer, who also co-sponsored the legislation. He said there was not a single person he talked to in Burton-Conner that was in favor of removing the kitchens. “The point was that in the event this proposal is seriously considered … we would have the petition and bill ready.”
While no one seems to know the source of the rumor, Benedict suggested that it could have come from the 2004 Housing Strategies Interim Report. That report has been accurate so far, correctly describing the construction of NW35 and an expansion of the undergraduate class size. The report also suggests turning Random Hall into a sorority, closing Bexley Hall for use in “non-housing purposes,” and ending Senior Segue, a program where undergraduates can live in graduate housing during their senior year.
“Every now and then, people start reading that report and they get hysterical,” said Benedict. He said that none of those options are currently being considered.
Miller, however, was wary of statements that no plan existed to remove Burton-Conner’s kitchens. “This seems to happen a lot, where [the administration] tells us there are no plans, then goes ahead anyway,” she said. “We don’t want [Burton-Conner] to end up like NW35,” she said, in regards to the administration’s private discussions about removing a floor and amenities from the building. The administration ultimately decided not to remove a floor, after the plan drew complains from graduate students and was reported in The Tech.
Benedict said that the NW35 student committee was “not actually involved in the exterior design of the buildings.” He suggested that a Burton-Conner committee could possibly have a say in renovation changes, including preserving kitchens.
Wyne was optimistic that a student committee could oversee any Burton-Conner changes. “Because of the fallout from a lot of the student proposals that have been implemented without student input, [the administration is] starting to realize it’s not the best way to do things,” he said.
Kitchens or not, renovations will eventually have to be made. “The buildings are just very old and tired,” said Benedict.
Dennis Collins, Director of Housing, concurred with Benedict that a plan to remove Burton-Conner’s kitchens “isn’t on the table at all” and that “East Campus and Burton-Conner certainly are in need of renovations.”
Logistically, renovating dormitories poses a series of problems. Collins suggested renovations could parallel those at Senior House, where the dormitory was closed for a summer. Past proposals have included using W1, the current Ashdown House, as a swing dormitory to house undergraduates while renovations take place. That proposal is unlikely, according to Benedict, now that MIT has decided to increase the undergraduate class size.
Right now, however, housing is “concentrating on opening the new NW35,” Collins said.
The 2004 Housing Strategies Interim Report is available at http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N9/bckitchens/housingreport.pdf.