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The Task Force on Student Engagement was established to increase student involvement on Institute decisions, announced administrators and student government leaders in the March/April issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter.

The task force was created as part of a new effort to address student concerns about faculty and administrative support for students and student involvement in Institute decisions. These concerns have been provoked by recent administrative actions cited by the letter: the presentation of NW35 to the MIT community, the conversion of Green Hall from graduate to undergraduate housing, the response to Star A. Simpson’s ’10 arrest at Logan Airport, and the response to three students’ arrests at the MIT Faculty Club.

The task force, which met for the first time in early May, is comprised of four graduate students, four undergraduate students, five administrators, and two faculty members. In a draft mission statement, they describe their intention to “identify issues relevant to student life and learning that have not been appropriately vetted by existing committee structure on which students serve” and to “propose ways to obtain student input on those issues.”

The task force was conceived in meetings between former Undergraduate Association President Martin A. Holmes ’08, Graduate Student Council President Leeland B. Ekstrom G, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, Vice President for Institute Affairs Kirk D. Kolenbrander, and other senior officers.

Following the announcement of the task force’s creation in the Faculty Newsletter, 26 faculty members signed a statement of support for the group, Holmes said. In addition, Holmes said that about 600 undergraduate students signed a petition supporting the task force and asking that its work be taken seriously. He said the petition has yet to be submitted because the UA is still deciding how and to whom the petition should be presented to maximize its impact.

Students have held voting positions in several faculty and presidential committees, but until the creation of the task force, there had been no centralized body to solicit student input on issues outside the business of those committees. Dean for Graduate Education Steven R. Lerman ’72, said, “There are areas that don’t naturally fit into a committee,” and the task force will be a means to address issues that are out of the scope of those committees but still involve students.

Holmes, one of the letter’s authors, hopes that the group will serve as a means to bridge that gap and allow students to be more involved in decision-making processes.

Incoming GSC President Oaz Nir G said, “I would like for us to have a solid vision of what student engagement should be and have it signed up by administration and faculty leaders.”

“I would like to avoid disappointments of the past where decisions are made unilaterally,” he added. He said he hopes that the task force will mark the beginning of a renewed effort “to keep up consistent meetings between major administrators and student leaders.”

A copy of the article in the Faculty Newsletter can be found at http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/martin.html.