Beyond the devious few who scheme that: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” not many people went into 2009 optimistically. The year’s inception saw a stricken financial sector, falling GDP, rising unemployment, and a neophyte leading the crazy train to Washington to spend his first year broadly increasing entitlements instead of going line by line through the budget.
Entering the year, liberals claimed that former President Bush and Republicans had set the country up for a depression. Conservatives claimed that Democrats would make things worse. Independents thought neither party had a clue about what they cared about, and punished the one in power at the time, a pattern repeated recently in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
At MIT, the specter of budget cuts, task forces, and reforms to the General Institute Requirements and dining policies loomed over everyone’s mind. Among undergraduates, 2009 saw continued criticism of the administration’s handling of student affairs. Students found that the system ostensibly designed to look after their interests and respond to their needs and desires did anything but. Did the system work? Not really.
The appropriateness of student’s responses to these changes varied. Upon the leak of a consultant’s draft report to the Blue Ribbon Dining Committee in February, the Undergraduate Association rightly condemned the BRDC’s secretive and closed process and created the Dining Proposal Committee to provide a comprehensive analysis of what students actually wanted in a dining system. A similar method of organizing and aggregating undergraduate feedback was utilized in the Response to the Institute-wide Planning Task Force Preliminary Report, and reflected the type of reasonable, intelligent input that students can contribute to the decision making process on campus.
Unfortunately, in both cases it’s hard to see how these contributions have impacted administrative decisions. The final Task Force Report, in particular, makes a single cursory mention of the UA’s efforts but fails to acknowledge their strong objections to proposals on dining, four year housing, or add/drop dates: some of the issues most important to undergraduates.
Thus, perhaps it’s not surprising that students sometimes responded to changes and announcements in foolhardy ways, such as stealing TIM the Beaver to protest varsity sports cuts or holding protests in Lobby 7 that often sent no grander message than, “We can complain loudly on mailing lists!”
Thankfully, both on and beyond campus, 2009 got some things right. Massachusetts voters sided with the majority of the country when they filled health care poster child Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat with a man who campaigned on being the 41st Senator against ObamaCare. MIT still has a strong contingent of faculty, staff, administrators and students who make the Institute something more than just another Ivy League caliber school, a place where individuals can pursue their own goals and dreams without impedance.
As members of the MIT community then, 2009 should remind us that we cannot and should not expect large grandiose committees, bureaucracies, and task forces to best serve our interests. These inherently inefficient systems will not always work, and MIT’s layers of administrators, working groups, and disinterested middleman serve only to complicate policy and isolate members of the community from the consequences of their decisions. In order to define the Institute in terms of the lasting principles of responsibility and individual freedom, we must be our own advocates. 2009 should remind us that all members of the community must ensure that MIT serves their individual interests, because no one else can or will.
Joseph Maurer is a Tech opinion editor.