While we agree with the basic premise of the above editorial — that the relationship between administrators and students has reached a low point — we differ with placing equal fault for the problem on students. Compared to the countless missteps in communication and access committed especially by the Division of Student Life, student leaders have been proactive and reasonable in attempting to engage with the administration, outlining time and again their desire for a more constructive relationship. Years after years of students have voiced their grievances about poor transparency and limited student involvement in decisions with important implications on student life. It’s now time for the administration to extend their hand.
There is a clear record of students attempting to engage senior Institute leadership in this constructive conversation:
• Former Undergraduate Association President (UAP) Martin F. Holmes ’08 and former Graduate Student Council President Leeland B. Ekstrom PhD ’09 first called for improvements to the student-administration relationship in order to “repair the damage that [has] been done to the fabric of our community … when communication breaks down between administrators and students on important issues.” (http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/204/martin.html).
• Former UAP Michael A. Bennie ’10 outlined critical problems with student input on potential changed to the Campus Dining system last April (http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N16/bennie.html); The Tech agreed with this sentiment with a May editorial (http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N26/editorial.html), and charged HDAG with releasing its as-promised minutes, which never substantially happened.
• Just this month, the Faculty Newsletter published a letter signed by current UAP Vrajesh Modi ’11 as well as four former UAPs (http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/233/modi.html) outlining how the administration’s promises on student engagement have fallen short, concluding that “Students are still not being involved in decision-making at the Institute in a consistent, structured manner, resulting in ongoing controversy, ambiguity surrounding process, and a perceived lack of respect.”
We feel that students have taken extraordinary action at this point to communicate their concerns to the administration about the perceived lack of transparency and ability for students to meaningfully impact campus decisions. The time is now for the administration to take positive action towards these requests.
Specifically, there seems to be more of a wall between Dean of Student Life Chris Colombo and students than there was previously, when students enjoyed easier access to former Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. For example, under Dean Colombo, a new Director of Communications position has been established, a curious role for an exclusively inward-facing organization such as DSL.
The implementation of this role has made it effectively more difficult for students to meet and speak directly with the Deans responsible for some of the elements of the MIT experience that students hold dear: housing, dining, athletics and student activities.
We charge all MIT staff members and administrators to heed and value the requests by student leaders to increase student participation in campus decision-making. You should take steps to improve direct, sincere, even personal communication with students. Students are looking for a willing partner to help improve our campus. We look to you to act without the need for further student legislation, and without the need for more letters from student leaders in The Tech and Faculty Newsletters.