Dozens of undergraduates comprised a passionate audience at yesterday evening’s emergency UA meeting, called in response to the proposed shortening of Orientation by the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming. Elizabeth C. Young and Julie B. Norman, associate dean and director, respectively, of the UAAP, discussed the planned changes to Orientation, including the re-scheduling of Advanced Standing Exams (ASEs) and the extension of Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs (FPOPs), but most discussion centered around the proposed reduction of Residence Exploration (REX) from three days to one.
Almost all questions fielded by the audience came from residents of East Campus and Senior House, with few other living groups asking questions or making their presence known.
Currently, the time for Orientation and REX spans seven days, from when freshmen are required to be on campus Saturday evening to the start of the Greek Griller (which kicks off FSILG rush) the following Saturday. The biggest proposed change to Orientation delays the official start of events by two days, not requiring freshmen to arrive until Monday afternoon. Freshmen would still have to submit their housing re-adjustment lottery choices by Tuesday evening; thus, REX would be approximately 24–30 hours long instead of the traditional three days. Convocation would kick off the official start of Orientation on Tuesday morning.
Freshman pre-orientation programs and ASEs are also subject to proposed changes. FPOPs, which currently run from 2–5 days before Orientation begins, would run 4 or 5 days under the proposed plan, with the longer FPOPs concluding on Monday morning, instead of before the weekend. According to Norman, this change would simplify many of the logistical issues stemming from FPOPs starting on different days of the week before Orientation.
Students wishing to take an ASE and participate in an FPOP would have to choose a four-day FPOP, as ASEs would now be administered on Monday, the last day of five-day FPOPs.
City Days, normally on the last Friday of Orientation, is under consideration to be pushed back further in the fall term. Norman suggested that if City Days were to be moved, it could possibly coincide with service days held by other Boston-area universities, such as Harvard.
Norman said that these changes are not motivated by resource or financial considerations, but out of concern for the freshmen. “We have the longest orientation in the country. It’s a problem in that as we go through the schedule, students lose energy and participation. Faculty are worried they’re worn out by the time classes begin,” she said, citing academic readiness as a central goal of Orientation.
To many students in the audience, however, these changes constituted less of an effort to care for freshmen than an attack on REX. REX, which normally begins on Saturday and concludes on Tuesday with the re-adjustment lottery, would now officially begin on Monday when freshmen must be on campus.
Norman said that historically, only 20 or so freshmen arrive on the final designated arrival day, and approximately 75 percent of the freshmen class arrives on campus one full week ahead of Orientation to participate in FPOPs or other on-campus activities. Norman suggested that dormitories could reach out to these students during the evening by holding some early REX-type events before REX officially begins. Furthermore, she cited that most of the freshmen class attends Campus Preview Weekend (CPW), and that the dormitories have an opportunity to get to know many members of the incoming class while they are prospective students. The Housing Office also sends several housing documents to freshmen before they arrive on campus, including the i3 videos.
Several students in the audience countered that CPW is not meant to replace REX and is aimed at helping students decide if MIT as an academic institution is a good fit. Norman said that although the main goal of CPW is for prospective students to decide if MIT is where they wish to learn for four years, one component of a good learning environment is a good living environment, so some aspects of CPW will share similarities with REX.
Other attendees questioned whether freshmen would be “too tired” from other activities to participate in these early REX events, and suggested that REX should be longer, not shorter. Several students said that they felt REX was more important than official Orientation programming, and as freshmen they had often slept through or skipped Orientation events after being involved in REX events; these comments were met with many snaps of audience agreement.
Norman and Young emphasized that they wish to work with students as these tentative changes to Orientation are smoothed out, and they encouraged students to contact their representatives to address concerns.
“I think we all share the same values — we want to welcome students, and have them be ready to find the right residence or community for them,” Norman said.
“I’m committed to work with you to help our students find that niche.”