Student-administration relations have seen progress this year. We’ve taken particular notice of Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80’s efforts to foster more frank discussion between students and the administration, and those efforts should be lauded. However, substantial work remains to restore a sense of trust and partnership, and to build a shared vision of a better MIT.
First, the good: Grimson’s personal efforts — and the efforts of others in his administration — to talk directly with students in a face-to-face setting have helped humanize the administration. As we’ve noted in the past, everyone benefits when students see administration officials as real people with real concerns and a real motivation to improve MIT.
Students and administration members tying to solve problems — which MIT does have — will find far more success if they treat each other as colleagues as opposed to adversaries. The Tech also appreciates the efforts of Grimson and his administration to reach out to students through our opinion pages — we acknowledge that doing so takes a significant amount of faith and trust.
Student government, for its part, has made strides of its own through the UA restructuring process. The new UA Council should provide a more centralized source of dormitory and FSILG leadership to administration officials looking for student feedback. We hope that the Council serves as a smarter, more forward thinking body than the now defunct UA Senate.
The true effectiveness of next year’s UA Council, however, remains to be seen. We will be watching it closely, and we urge the UA to maximize the transparency of its new core body.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, however, more can be done by both parties.
In particular, the administration must continue to make the constraints and options of policy-making clear to students. And students must recognize that their approach cannot always be reactive — they should proactively approach the administration with thoughtful ideas for campus change.
We applaud how many important student life policies are made following committee work — like the Orientation Committee or the House Dining Advisory Group — but the workflow and ultimate decision-making process is often unclear. It is reasonable and understandable that committees cannot share all of their data and deliberations with the public, but exactly how committee work will impact policy and who will ultimately decide to implement a policy should be apparent from the outset.
The rules of engagement are important to establish: If students are going to participate in a committee, how is their input weighed? Will the committee be answering questions pertaining to the details of implementation for a new policy, or will they actually determine whether a policy is implemented at all?
Our purpose here is not to pass judgment on the answers to those kinds of questions. What’s important is that those questions are answered honestly and openly. Students should know that some issues have long-term ramifications for the Institute — in such cases, it is O.K. that student input be considered less strongly than that of faculty or administrators who will live with these decisions for far more than four years.
On the other hand, if MIT is looking for guidance on the implementation of a new student life policy, but already knows that it’s going to be implemented, they must make those constraints clear. Students should understand the process, but not necessarily control it.
The past two years have seen an enormous outpouring of energy and passion from students on student life issues, but almost always in a reactionary sense. Students should instead actively think about what they think the Institute should look like in five, ten, or twenty years. They should identify the issues that will improve MIT — whether in academics, student life, or the Institute’s role as an international influence. They should ask if MIT’s actions comply with its vision.
Students should think big, and go to the administration first with solutions, not just complaints.
Everyone’s got their work cut out for them in 2012. Students and administrators alike should build on 2011’s progress to make next year a productive and prosperous one.