MIT is a different place today than it was one year ago. On a global level, MIT is connecting to the rest of the world in ways it never has before. On a local level, MIT itself is evolving — faced with new financial realities and a need to remain competitive with peer schools, the Institute has seen significant changes to important aspects of academics and student life. Many of 2010’s changes will define MIT for years to come.
Changes to student life have been on everybody’s minds. Chief among them was campus dining reform, which dominated Tech headlines. Last May, the House Dining Advisory Group (HDAG) released its set of final recommendations, the culmination of more than two years of dining discussion across various working groups. Starting in the fall, five dorms, including the soon-to-be complete Maseeh Hall, will require students to buy in to one of several plans, which range in cost from $2,500 to $4,500 per year. But HDAG’s recommendations met with significant student opposition — from the UA and grassroots groups like the “SayNo” campaign.
Also in 2010, Phi Beta Epsilon, a local fraternity at MIT since 1890, was suspended by the Interfraternity Council (IFC) for alleged hazing which took place in January 2010. Details, however, were not forthcoming. PBE countered the IFC’s decision with a flurry of letters to Susan Hockfield and The Tech, asserting that the IFC judicial process was flawed and invoking more than a century of PBE’s history with MIT.
But MIT is a complicated place, and 2010 saw a lot of changes that students welcomed with open arms. A much-needed simplification of the HASS distribution requirement was implemented starting with the Class of 2014. Now, students need only fulfill three distributions, down from five, and can pick from many more HASS classes — without entering a lottery. MIT also completed the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the new Sloan building, E62. Both offer state-of-the-art research and teaching facilities, and round out the latest phase of campus expansion.
Finally, thanks to a generous donation from Fariborz Maseeh ScD ’90, Maseeh Hall will open this fall, the first year of a phased increase in undergraduate class size to about 4,500. Maseeh will also feature the most robust of HDAG’s new dining plans, with the option for students to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all at the dorm’s new dining hall. The Phoenix Group clearly has it’s work cut out for it — it will be providing the seed community for the 462-bed undergraduate dormitory.
Amidst all these changes, it’s important to keep perspective. The MIT administration has the unenviable task of balancing a lot of competing interests, and that’s certain to be no easy job. MIT is a place for learning, research, living, and working — and in each one of those endeavors, not everything is going to work out perfectly. Consequently, as students, we have to be aware that compromise — in all regards — is essential. The administration’s decisions may not always be aligned with living groups’ goals, but that doesn’t mean they’re seeking to destroy culture. It means that the administration brings a unique perspective to the table, and it’s one which is worth listening to.
Perspective also means paying attention to the stories that don’t make the headlines. Less often do students write in to dorm discussion lists about great new changes at MIT, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. MIT’s faculty, staff, and senior administration officials alike work hard to ensure that MIT can continue to offer us a world-class education and unparalleled access to cutting-edge research projects. Soliciting alumni donations, managing an 8.3 billion dollar endowment, and working out billion-dollar yearly budgets are a few of the many things people in the administration do to ensure this place stays afloat. All the while, they help to provide about 90 percent of undergraduates with some form of financial aid. Many attend for free.
Does all that mean the administration should have carte-blanche to make any and all student life changes, or that they’re faultless? Absolutely not. Student input is crucial to every change in student life policy, and it should be solicited (and offered) often and early. Not every decision will be the right one, and in the past, MIT students have helped the administration recognize when they’ve made a mistake. We need to be in that business too; helping the administration, not attacking them. This is MIT, and we’re all in it together.