Last Wednesday, a group of over 10 students in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning walked in on a faculty committee meeting at the Black Sheep Restaurant in Kendall Square to demand a clearer mechanism for student input into future of the department and the handling of budget cuts.
The committee they walked in, called DUSP 2015, had been charged by DUSP’s new department chair, Amy K. Glasmeier, with creating an initial vision for the future of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Students presented meeting attendees with a document detailing their grievances and sat down at another table at the restaurant while the faculty conducted their meeting. At the end of the meeting, according to Naveen Jawaid G, one of the members of the group of students and who serves on the DUSP Student Council, said that Professor Judith Layzer PhD ’98, the chair of DUSP 2015, “committed to convene a meeting between the students and Amy [Glasmeier] in which a clear timeline for the future of student input would be a topic.”
Jawaid said that while students had submitted input to the department in the form of memos and had discussed budget and department planning issues with Glasmeier and other faculty members in two meetings during late April, no formal process for collecting student input had been established.
Students were also concerned that the first time Glasmeier “formally approached” the DUSP students was in late-April meetings, three months after Glasmeier came to MIT to fill the role of department chair.
Glasmeier, however, said she felt that her door had always been wide open to students, even though she had not come to them to arrange a time to talk: “Students can always come speak to me, and I’ve met with people all day every day since I’ve been here.”
Some students did not feel represented by those who walked in on the DUSP 2015 meeting. Jawaid and her group are “a marginal fraction of the student body,” said Joshua Sklarsky G, another DUSP graduate student and a member of the DUSP Student Council.
“The DUSP Student Council appreciates and applauds all that the DUSP administration and Amy Glasmeier have done in taking the initiative to solicit student input,” Sklarsky said. “We respect the right of the faculty to have their own meeting space.”
Much of the disparity between and within faculty and students seems to stem from a lack of clarity about what exactly the DUSP 2015 committee was meant to accomplish.
Glasmeier originally wanted DUSP 2015 to map out far-reaching changes to the Urban Planning department. Glasmeier said the committee had been established to allow the faculty to “have an initial conversation with themselves” and “begin a conversation that will include many layers of investigation and consultation” and last six to eight months.
Layzer said that such a task couldn’t be accomplished in a year, so instead she planned on having a brainstorming conversation with the faculty, but didn’t tell the students. “[Layzer and I] knew we couldn’t take on the whole set of planning issues at once and that we had to do it in pieces,” Glasmeier said.
According to Jawaid, professors never formally explained the purpose of DUSP 2015, and students only heard about the committee’s existence through faculty members.
Layzer put herself at fault for the miscommunication between the DUSP 2015 committee and the students. The students still thought that the Urban Planning department was making huge changes behind their backs. Layzer said that wasn’t true.
“It was always our intent to get input from everybody,” she said.