In the wake of several hasty decisions by the MIT administration such as the decision to convert Green Hall to a sorority residence, a string of hacking incidents that resulted in arrests, the Star Simpson statement, and transparency problems surrounding the preliminary Blue Ribbon Dining Committee report, members of the MIT community began to evaluate the framework of student engagement. Administrators bolstered their communication staff and refined their methods of connecting and involving students in important decisions. Some faculty members began to question the merits and foresight of these decisions. Student leaders asked for more direct methods of communicating with senior members of the administration, which lead to the formation of the Task Force of Student Engagement (now the Student Engagement Committee).
Although many looked to members of the administration to resolve the issue of student engagement, issues outside of the administration’s control were identified. Chief among them was the lack of a unified student opinion on major student decisions. Administrators complained that while engaging groups that purported to represent students such as the Dormitory Council, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association, and the Undergraduate Association, they heard different stories. One group would tell them that students supported the proposal, while another would insist that students vehemently opposed it. This lack of a definitive viewpoint served to hinder student input into important decisions.
Student voice has been routinely fragmented since the dissolution of the Institute Committee in the 1960’s. In the subsequent decades, the graduate community has stood behind one government (the Graduate Student Council), while the undergraduates have identified themselves through several governments. Given the rich culture that MIT enjoys and community support for student influence in decision making, it is not surprising that different groups arose to focus on the variety of policy and programming matters that need to be attended to regularly. This division of labor has allowed a plethora of students to participate in policy decisions and event planning at a level our peers at other universities can only dream of. The undergraduates have only come together in the face of major campus changes, the last occasion over a decade ago with the Unified Student Proposal to confront the transformational recommendations, including housing freshmen on campus, following the Scott Krueger incident.
Although remaining a fractured body allows several benefits, there are many advantages to a centralized group. First and foremost, it would provide the MIT administration with a direct connection to representative student opinion and feedback that is critical to informed decision making. The final say on many decisions at MIT rests in the hands of our administration and it is important that we provide them a clear picture of the undergraduate viewpoint. Second, the undergraduate governments would benefit from information sharing and coordination on important matters so that there is neither duplication of effort nor is anything critical allowed to fall through the cracks. Finally, it will provide a greater amount of stability and institutional memory to important groups that consistently turn over their membership in the blink of an eye on the time scale of the Institute. It is possible to retain the positive aspects of an efficiently structured system, while still coming together to tackle matters of great significance to the undergraduates with a unified voice.
With the commencement of another semester at MIT, the presidents of DormCon, IFC, Panhel and the UA have joined together to form the Undergraduate Presidents’ Council. This team is not intended to replace any of the governments or have any formal power, but to serve two explicit purposes. The first is to simplify the coordination and expression of the views and desires of the undergraduate student body. This group will also serve to inform and align the efforts of the governments involved. While the existing framework benefits the undergraduates in numerous ways, attention to these two focal points will empower and solidify our perspective at a time when important matters are being decided and plans implemented.
This group hopes to effectively express the majority opinion of the current undergraduates while keeping in mind the best interest of future students. These opinions will take the form of a one-page summary of the issue at hand and represent a consensus view of the undergraduate population. With the release of the Institute-wide Planning Task Force’s final report, there is a clear set of recommendations that impact the students and a clear need for undergraduate input on issue prioritization and implementation.
`The first three pieces we have assembled address the Institute-wide Planning Task Force recommendation to move Add/Drop date, implementation details surrounding the Institute-wide Planning Task Force recommendation about on-campus summer housing, and the possibility of a spring FSILG recruitment period. The text of these statements can be found at http://ua.mit.edu/upc.
If you have an issue you think needs to be brought to the attention of the MIT administration, please send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael A. Bennie ‘10 is the current President of the Undergraduate Association. Column submitted on behalf of the Undergraduate Presidents’ Council.