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Yuanyu Chen
Pillars illustrating the MIT community’s concerns over communication, hacking, dining, and housing appeared in Lobby 7 on Oct. 17 as part of a “tool in” organized by protesters calling themselves the “Campaign for Students.”
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Several important events relating to changes in housing policies and hacking incidents affected students in the past year. Student perception of being omitted in several important decisions led to the creation of a student group voicing these concerns. A newly formed Task Force attempted to tackle some of these concerns and increase student involvement in the decision-making process.

Housing

The year began with news of converting Green Hall, an all female Graduate dormitory, into housing for members of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. The transition occurred in the fall of 2008 when members of the sorority moved into Green Hall from Sidney-Pacific, where they had resided since 2003.

Graduate residents of Green Hall were not consulted prior to the decision and only informed of it in January when they were told to vacate by June 30, 2008. Neither, then Graduate Student Council president, Leeland B. Ekstrom G nor Undergraduate Association President Martin F. Holmes ’08 were informed by the administration about the decision in advance.

W1 was another hot button issue when the Phoenix Group — approximately 50 undergraduates currently living in Ashdown House (NW35) who were slated to move into W1 and form its first community — was informed on Oct. 20, 2008, at a meeting with Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo and Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman ’72 that the renovation of W1 would be delayed due to the economic crisis.

The future was uncertain as the administration didn’t know when resources would be available to start and finish the renovation. While the completion date of the project is still unknown, preservation of the exterior will commence this spring after a generous anonymous donation was announced last month. The Phoenix Group was not consulted in how the money was to be used but rather was informed of the news on Jan. 26, 2009.

Hacking

Issues of hacking came into light again as felony charges were initially pressed on graduate student Michael P. Short after MIT Police found him and two other graduate students in the basement of NW16 on the night of June 7, 2008. The charges were later dropped on July 18, 2008.

The incident brought back memories of an incident at the Faculty Club in 2006 when three students were charged with breaking and entering in the Cambridge District Court. This sparked dialogue between the MIT Police and part of the hacking community. On Nov. 3, 2008, MIT Director of Facilities and Security, John DiFava and Captain Albert F. Pierce Jr. held a Q&A session with students in East Campus on the issues of hacking at the institute. The meeting was held in hopes of creating an open channel with the MIT Police. The officers acknowledged that they aren’t trying to stop hacking but rather make it safer and draw a line between hacking and criminal activity.

Student Voices

Many of these issues were brought up by a group of students calling themselves the Campaign for Students who protested the administration with a “tool-in” on Oct. 17, 2008, the first day of Families Weekend. The goal was to draw attention to the lack of student input in the administration’s decision making. The group has listed out all their grievances on their website including dining, hacking, and concerns about artwork around campus. Dean for Student life Chris Colombo spoke with students at the protest as well as with UA president Noah S. Jessop ’09 to address these issues.

Changes

A new Task Force was created to increase student engagement in institute decisions. It was announced at the end of the Spring 2008 in the March/April issue of the Faculty Newsletter by administrators and student government leaders. This was a step forward toward increasing student involvement in certain institute decisions.

The committee has met five times, most recently on Nov. 19, 2008. There was an emergency meeting held the morning of Oct. 20, 2008 to inform the committee about halting W1 renovations. Graduate Student Council president Oaz Nir has said that some of the intangible results of the task force have been better efforts by the administration to communicate with students. When asked for examples of consultation on decision making, Nir pointed to the decision to appoint Colombo as housemaster of Next House. The committee was asked for input before the decision was made.

Nir has noticed an increase in the number of e-mails sent from Lerman, the Dean for Graduate Education, asking the GSC officers for input. The Task Force hopes to solicit student input in cutting MIT’s budget, according to Nir.