The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 49.0°F | Partly Cloudy
Article Tools

No more paper Add/Drop forms? Undergrads forced out of their dorms after three years? Online master’s degrees? GIRs taught during the summer? Shuttered Athena clusters?

Creative thinking could save MIT money, preventing layoffs and protecting campus research, if the Institute implements ideas proposed by a special committee charged with long-term planning.

But some of those ideas could dramatically alter the face of MIT in years to come. If you want a say, you should speak up before October, when MIT will make a decision on the ideas. The report, and a way to share your thoughts, are available online at ideabank.mit.edu.

The easiest-to-do ideas could, in aggregate, save MIT perhaps $10–15 million by 2010-2011, according to the report. In the long run, some of the more exotic ideas — opening an extension school, offering master’s degrees online, tweaking class sizes — could amount to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in saved money and new revenue.

But if every single one of those 200-plus ideas were to come about, MIT would look quite different. The Tech takes a look at “MIT in five years,” if every plan were executed, after the fold.

If the Institute were to implement every single idea on the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force’s list, here are some of the more notable differences in what a future MIT might look like:

There will be about four hundred more undergraduate students and at least a thousand fewer grad students. Some undergrads will be crowded into Baker Hall “quints,” MacGregor “lounge doubles”, Next House triples, or vacant singles in the new Ashdown House (NW35).

Many undergrads will be required to move off campus, because MIT will no longer guarantee four years of housing.

If you’ve been reading your e-mail, these ideas so far might sound familiar — Paul F. Baranay ’11, speaker of the Undergraduate Association Senate, has raised an outcry among students about the possibility of increasing the undergrad class size, crowding dorms, and getting rid of four years of housing. He says these changes would hurt the dorm culture and has encouraged students to share their opinions with MIT administrators.

But these are far from the only changes proposed by the task force. What else might happen to change MIT’s culture? Suppose the rest of the ideas come to fruition, as well. Then:

While there will be fewer graduate students on campus, perhaps a thousand people will be enrolled as electronic graduate students, pursuing master’s degrees from MIT entirely online via an innovative “e-learning” program.

Construction will halt permanently on the old Ashdown House (W1), eliminating the possibility of four hundred extra beds for undergraduates. The students in the “Phoenix Group” won’t move into W1. (Might they instead choose to keep their space in the new Ashdown House (NW35), much like the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority once occupied part of Sidney-Pacific?)

MIT will raze aging buildings; old buildings will be assessed to determine whether their maintenance costs are higher than the value they add to the Institute. (Although MIT will need undergraduate housing, could the demolition list include Bexley Hall and Random Hall, whose closure was proposed as recently as in the 2004 Housing Strategies Interim Report?)

Even there will be a lot more undergrads, teaching them won’t be a problem. Dorms which aren’t closed for the summer or rented out to conferences will be packed full of students paying tuition to take special summer versions of the basic degree requirements like 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry) or 8.02 (Electricity and Magnetism). Many of MIT’s new summer subjects will be open to other area college students, much like the Tufts Summer Session.

Students who have internships or jobs that bring them out of the state will still be able to take online versions of the same subjects — or they can take the subjects online in the fall.

Registration for subjects will happen online, not with a paper form. Adding and dropping subjects will happen online, not with a paper form. Pay stubs will be delivered electronically, not on paper. Requests for travel reimbursement will be delivered electronically, not on paper. Indeed, paper forms will largely have been abandoned, finally bringing MIT into the 1990s.

Although there will be fewer grad students doing research, there will still be a crush for space. In the physical sciences, multiple labs will share equipment instead of each buying their own redundant tools. A handful of computing clusters will have replaced the old hodgepodges of inefficiently-arranged supercomputers that each department used to offer for calculations.

Faculty who turn 67 (or maybe a little older) will receive a letter from MIT indicating that they are now eligible for Social Security and that the school will no longer contribute to their retirement accounts. Perhaps many will take the hint and retire.

MIT will, regrettably, have had to terminate the contracts of many postdoctoral research fellows who have stayed longer than four years. Some labs will feel more cramped; MIT will take away space from research groups whose staff size has permanently shrunk. Some groups whose staffing has declined over time will be consolidated, with their administrative and research personnel moved into a new combined lab.

Though MIT will ask faculty to pay more of their own salaries out of research grants instead of using Institute funds, there will be plenty of money left over for grad students, simply because there will be fewer of them.

Teaching assistantships won’t always pay grad students very well, because salaries will scale to match the amount of work that goes into teaching a subject. Every Ph.D. candidate will be required to get experience by making a good-faith effort to teach at least one semester.

Subject enrollment sizes will be larger, and not just because the undergraduate class will be bigger. Drop Date will come within the first month of classes, giving premeds fewer chances to abandon a subject in which they might get a “B” and making enrollment sizes more predictable.

The historically small, tight-knit freshman seminars will still be tight-knit, but they’ll be tightening their purses, too. Instead of taking students on an expensive field trip to see their science in action, 12.000 (Mission 2018: Terrascope) might hold a video conference with research universities overseas.

Most “Athena clusters” will be gone, having been deemed underutilized and replaced by classrooms or storage space. The Student Center’s computer lab will look the same as it always has. A few “Quickstations” will remain scattered across campus and shared computers will be available in each dorm for students to check their e-mail. Students will be able to print out term papers or class notes, but not for free: their student account will be billed 5 cents per page.

Employees will pay MIT Medical a little bit more than they used to and receive a little bit less care. Students will pay $10 for every office visit.

On the whole, though, students will be healthier, even though they will no longer be required to take four physical education classes or compete in varsity sports to graduate.

Instead, students will be able to fulfill their PE requirement by spending time on a cardio machine or swimming laps in the Alumni Pool; by competing in one of about 20 intramural sport leagues like IM Softball; or by teaching swimming classes. Some of the old, exotic PE options will be abandoned as too expensive — there will be no more credit for weekend mountain hikes.

Still, students will be walking more, because there will be fewer cross-campus shuttle buses.

Plenty of students will use MIT’s meal plans to get nutritious all-you-can-eat food at dining halls. The meal plan will be expensive, and some people will opt out and cook for themselves. But the plan will also be popular because undergraduates will get an extra financial aid grant just to cover the cost of the meal plan, making it likely that students and their friends will eat at dining halls. The MIT meal plan, which has long struggled to avoid a deficit, will improve because of the enrollments that will be virtually guaranteed by this financial aid policy.