In July, the Presidential Transition Advisory Cabinet (PTAC) released its public report with recommendations for MIT president L. Rafael Reif. Formed in July 2012 and operating since August 2012, the PTAC centered its recommendations around three themes — “The MIT Educational Experience,” “Community — Places, Resources, People” and “Support and Engagement,” and “The Residential Campus of the 21st Century.” With the release of the report, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and Undergraduate Association (UA) began soliciting applications for a new Institute Committee, the Presidential Advisory Cabinet (PAC), of four undergraduate and four graduate representatives.
This first PAC consists of graduate students Maria A. Berezina G, Aalap S. Dighe G, and Jason J. Gonzales G, and undergraduate students Thomas D. Alcorn ’14, Caitlin A. Mackey ’15, and Elise M. Myers ’14, with GSC president Caleb J. Waugh G and UA president Sidhanth P. Rao ’14 serving ex officio. Members were selected through the GSC nominations board and UA nominations committee, and will serve for one-year terms, beginning on July 1 of each year. The cabinet will serve the MIT president in a “purely advisory capacity on various issues identified by the President concerning the student body,” according to the PAC’s charge.
In 1992, the UA Council created a “Presidential Advisory Committee” of undergraduates that was to meet biweekly and include the executive officers of the UA, the UA Council floor leader, chairmen of UA standing committees, and presidents of the Interfraternity Council, Dormitory Council, and Panhellenic Association — but the PAC is the first Institute Committee where “students will be given a direct channel to advise the MIT President directly on student issues,” according to the GSC’s call for applications.
While the PAC will advise Reif going forward, the PTAC’s report — coauthored by Bryan D. Bryson G, Jonté D. Craighead ’13, Dighe, Alexandra L. Ghaben ’13, Angela E. Kilby G, Catherine A. Olsson ’12, Eduardo Russian ’13, and Brian L. Spatocco G — identified several Institute-wide issues to address.
On MIT’s educational experience, the PTAC’s list of concerns included the inconsistent quality of advising as a problem for both undergraduates and graduate students. Undergraduates, according to the report, often encountered advisors who “lack adequate understanding of Institute requirements and policies,” and graduate advising varies widely by the individual advisors. The report recommended a formalized evaluation system for advisors, much like the subject evaluation system. Looking to what comes after MIT, the PTAC also reported a strong campus sentiment that career fairs and Global Education & Career Development (GECD) resources are “disproportionately focused on Course 6.”
In the community arena, undergraduate skepticism of Institute administration and perception of recent actions impacting living communities featured prominently in the report. “Undergraduates feel very strongly about the autonomy and personality of their living groups,” wrote the PTAC, “and as a result view with great skepticism recent Institute-wide policies that are perceived as interfering in a top-down manner with the existing system of self-determination.” To address these and other issues in student-administration communication, the PTAC suggested a rough framework for transparency in future engagements.
Additionally, in line with increased mental health concerns in the MIT community over the past couple years, the PTAC reported that students are often unclear on mental health policies, the report read, and their experiences with Student Support Services (S3) vary widely. As such, the cabinet recommended the creation of a Standing Committee on Mental Health and initiatives to remove campus stigma around asking for help.
Regarding the design of MIT’s campus, the report discussed the availability and quality of both undergraduate and graduate housing. As several dormitory buildings have suffered from HVAC, structural, and facade problems, among other costly maintenance issues, the PTAC recommended prioritization of deferred maintenance of current MIT residences. For graduate students, the cabinet urged action to “ensure sufficient affordable housing,” a topic that has been debated throughout the course of MIT’s Kendall Square rezoning petition. With Kendall Square, the PTAC also suggested an improved east entrance to the MIT campus, both “aesthetically and metaphorically.” Steps have already been taken on that front by a faculty design committee, and design firms will vie for the opportunity to work with an MIT working committee to create an eastern MIT gateway.