*Draft 1: Chris Rezek

*Edit 1: Matt McGann

*Public draft 1 (this document): Chris Rezek

Orientation and Residence System


I. Strengths & Needs
II. Residence Hall and Room Selection
III. Orientation
IV. Theme Houses
V. Member Recruitment and Selection for FSILGs
VI. Fall and Spring Dormitory Lotteries
VII. Housing Guarantee
VIII. Financial Support for FSILGs
IX: Graduate Students in FSILGs

Strengths and Needs

Overall, our residence system is a strength. Of our peer institutions, the MIT Residential Experience is rated highest, according to the Spring 1996 Cycles Survey (86.8% satisfied). Compared to the average of the peer institutions, significantly more students are "very satisfied" with MIT's residential experience (52.30% vs. 34.3%). We are above average in inter-residence interaction, social life, and ranked third in campus community.

The Orientation 1998 survey indicates that 89 percent of student were satisfied with their choice of living group, up 2% from 1997 and 9% from 1994. In fact, 70% of students were "very satisified" with their choice of living group, up from 63% in 1997 and from 45% in 1994. In 1998, only 3% of students were "very dissatisfied" with their living group selection, down from 7% in 1997 and 12% in 1994.

As Associate Dean Alberta Lipson points out in the Orientation Survey results, 1998's Orientation represented "a break from the past." Orientation had a significantly diminished focus on residence selection, while still allowing freshmen choice during Orientation.

However, a non-negligible number of our students have a difficult, stressful time selecting a living group. Two-fifths of incoming freshmen in 1998 and one-third in 1997 indicated that the housing decision was difficult. One-eighth of the 1998 freshmen and one-fifth of the 1997 freshmen students felt that they had insufficient information to make a decision. One-fifth of the 1998 freshmen and one-third of the 1997 freshmen felt that they did not have sufficient time. Also, according to the 1998 Senior Survey, 21 percent of students had a negative attitude towards choosing a living group during the first week, and 22 percent of students in the 1994 Senior Survey. It is crucial that a new residence system address this 10-30% of students who did not have optimal residence selection experiences, while preserving the strengths of the system experienced by the remaining 70-90 percent.

MIT's 36 residential FSILGs provide a diversity of living options unparalleled in higher education. While FSILGs are not for everyone, they do provide more opportunities for leadership and service and allow students to experience a greater degree of mutual support and responsibility than is possible in a residence hall. Many FSILGs also provide lifetime membership in international or national organizations that can provide community decades after members have left MIT. FSILGs provide more cost-effective housing and meal options than do MIT residence halls. Also, as the Phase II Status Report of the RSSC says, "the FSILG system has been a leader at MIT in mentoring and advising freshmen" and allowing that relationship to continue to grow, even if freshmen cannot live in FSILGs, can only benefit the freshmen and MIT. The satisfaction rates for FSILGs are higher than those for residence halls. "The 1994 Senior Survey showed that 93 percent of independent living group residents were either satisfied or very satisfied with their living group experience, compared with 80 percent of dormitory residents." (TFSLL, p66)

The residence halls of the Institute also provide vibrant living environments that provide a diversity of supportive living environments for undergraduates. The dormitories have demonstrated their ability to run successful programming with minimal funding and support, and as MIT invests in its residences the quality of life is sure to continue to improve. The informal support networks that have developed in many cases rival those found in FSILGs. Dormitory-internal living groups, both the formal Theme Houses and less formal hallways and entries, provide distinct residential environments that cater to a variety of interests and lifestyles.

Two other notable strengths of the MIT residential system are the four year housing guarantee and the new and innovated Pre-Orientation programs.

We readily acknowledge that MIT's residences are not perfect. MIT has grossly under-recognized and under-supported the residence system for most of its history. Noted weaknesses of the system are poor facility maintenance, low faculty involvement in residential life, a shortage of graduate student housing, and unwarranted crowding in the residence halls. No one should confuse the failures of the current system with the failures of MIT to support that system.

Residence Hall and Room Selection

The residence hall selection process will happen in two phases. Incoming freshmen will have the opportunity to make a preliminary choice of a residence hall during the summer. They will be provided with literature in various media produced by the residence halls as well as contact information for each residence hall. The purpose of providing information and the ability to contact residents of a dormitory is to increase the ability of the freshmen to pick an housing environment where they would feel welcome and comfortable. The freshmen will submit a ranked list of residence halls and information about their preferences in a living environment.

During Orientation, all freshmen will be required to actively confirm their summer choice of residence or enter a lottery with a new ranking of residence halls (which may include their current assignment). Two freshmen may choose to lottery together. The purpose of this lottery is to enable freshmen to change their dormitory if their choice, based on limited information over the summer, is not what they expected.

Two freshmen should be able to staple together so that freshmen who meet and become friends during Orientation are able to become roommates, and we hope that internal dormitory room assignments will take that into account. We believe that groups larger than two should not be permitted, to prevent the creation of isolated groups within dormitories or be incompatible with internal rooming assignments.

Following this lottery, dormitories will do internal rooming assignments by a mechanism determined by the dormitory government and approved by the Student Life Council. The freshmen will have the opportunity to meet members and examine rooms from all parts of the dormitory. Upperclassmen should be given the ability to positively select freshmen for internal divisions of a residence hall (e.g. the halls of East Campus or the entries of MacGregor) but not the ability to deny or "blacklist" a freshmen the ability to choose a particular internal division of a residence hall. Upperclassmen who share rooms or suites with freshmen must be given the ability to chose mutually acceptable living arrangements.

We believe that upperclassmen, because of their experience with and knowledge about the living groups within their dormitories, are able to positively contribute to the freshmen selection process, but we recognize that granting the power to deny freshmen a particular room is inappropriate. Giving upperclassmen the opportunity to preferentially attract freshmen with compatible personalities improves the frequency and productivity of informal interaction, including everything from help with problem sets to sewing advice. Upperclassmen should not have the ability to unkindly bounce a freshman somehow labeled as "undesirable" from place to place, nor should an exclusionary attitude dominate the beginning of the MIT experience. Any positive selection means should be confidential and only available to rooming chairs. All in all, we hope that the proposed residence selection system will help eliminate roommate, floormate, and housemate "horror stories" from the MIT experience, by allowing freshmen and upperclassmen to make mutually compatible living arrangements in a informative, low-pressure, informal social environment.

This system removes much of the pace and pressure of orientation while enabling a degree of the self-selection which has produced the current vibrant communities in residence halls. We were very reluctant to agree to any form of summer pre-selection but recognize that it is in the best interests of the Institute to do so.


"The central purpose of orientation should be to create the feeling of joining a single, campus-wide community. To do this, there should be more activities that involve faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students in shared experiences. Orientation events must be more than pro forma exercises to be endured. If each orientation experience has a constructive purpose, students could be expected to take them seriously." (TFSLL p43)

From the Task Force's recommendation and our own experience and wisdom we suggest freshmen should be able to do the following by the end of Orientation:

To achieve these goals, we believe the following events need occur:

  • Pre-Orientation
  • introduction to academics, especially the General Institute Requirements
  • introduction to research, especially the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program
  • introduction to resources for students
  • introduction to advisor(s)
  • introduction to student activities
  • introduction to residence options
  • introduction to athletic opportunities
  • ample time for informal interactions (a.ka. fun) with community members, including not only undergraduates but also graduate students, faculty, alumni, and staff.

    Pre-Orientation programs should continue to be supported and developed. The goals should be to accommodate all freshmen who wish to take part in a Pre-Orientation program and to raise freshmen interest to near 100%. In order to provide equal access, freshmen should not be required to pay additional fees to participate in Pre-Orientation programs. Corporate sponsorship, such as that obtained for the inaugural Freshman Outdoors Program, may be beneficial. These programs should provide experiences not typically available during the term and enable freshmen to get to know each other and other members of the MIT community.

    A possible schedule:

    SATURDAY: Freshmen arrive for Pre-Orientation programs. Parents Orientation occurs.

    SUNDAY: Pre-Orientation begins. Parents Orientation continues.

    MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: Pre-Orientation.

    THURSDAY: Presidents Convocation. Freshmen meet Orientation Groups. Faculty Welcome Dinner. Evening social time.

    FRIDAY: Academic Expo. Core Blitz. Meetings with Advisors. Residence Midway. Evening social time.

    SATURDAY: Athletics Gateway. Activities Midway. Carnival begins.

    SUNDAY: Community Carnival. The Carnival is intended as an evening and day of fun for freshmen and will take place primarily on Briggs Field. Events may be run by residence halls, student groups, academic departments, FSILGs, or staff. The Student Life Council should set minimal guidelines for such events.

    MONDAY: Introduction to UROP. Freshmen Lab Explorations. Dormitory Open Houses.

    TUESDAY: Meetings with Advisors. Introduction to Alternative Freshmen Programs. Dormitory Lottery due 5pm.

    WEDNESDAY: Meetings with Advisors. Explorations in Boston with Orientation Groups. Dormitory Lottery results out by 5pm. Dormitory meetings and internal tours in the evening.

    THURSDAY: Move into rooms. Pre-registration due.

    FRIDAY: Community service event; Picnic with Wellesley/BU/BC.

    SATURDAY-MONDAY: Open social time.

    TUESDAY: Registration Day.

    WEDNESDAY: First Day of Classes.

    Theme Houses

    MIT should provide housing options that will best support its diverse community. To this end, a limited number of theme houses would be beneficial to students. Approval for houses should necessarily require that it add to a diversity of options in the residence system, and not compete with existing student groups or living options. Theme houses must be able to defend the necessity of being a residential group as opposed to a non-residential student activity. Approval should also require that the theme reinforce MIT's educational mission.

    It is crucial that the theme houses maintain character through some sort of selection process. The theme house should have the opportunity to fill all vacancies within their assigned areas in either one of the following manners, or they may use a combination of the two. The first method consists of recruiting Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors at the end of a Spring Term to live in the House in question starting at the beginning of the following Fall Semester. The second method consists of compelling all future Freshmen to sign a commitment, approved by the Student Life Council, that says they will be willing to do the house duties that are required of them for membership. If the commitment is violated (as in the house member in question refuses to complete the work required of him), then an administrative channel will exist which will allow the house to have the member moved out of the house and replaced with a person who has their approval.

    Member Recruitment and Selection for Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups

    As was discussed in the Needs and Strengths section, Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living Groups fill a valuable niche in MIT's educational mission, provide unparalleled support, are a cost effective housing option for undergraduate students, and provide co- and extra-curricular opportunities not available in residence halls. The Institute should make every effort to encourage freshmen to consider their upperclass housing options and to facilitate and support that process.

    The Interfraternity Council, in consultation with the Residential Life Office and the Student Life Council, will set guidelines for the new member recruitment and selection process. We recommend that the IFC take special care to address issues about hard flushing and repeat violators of Rush rules.

    The Institute should expect that the IFC will not run a rush that will compete with established Orientation activities. The administration should work closely with the IFC to ensure periods of recruitment that fit well into the MIT calendar and are as free of academic pressure as possible given the time(s) of the year. We anticipate that the IFC will choose to hold one such recruitment period in September for non-residential freshmen members.

    We note that each FSILG chooses its members in a manner consistent with its own constitution and principles. The current organized system of Rush is enabled by voluntary coordination and cooperation of the member houses of the Interfraternity Council, not by imposition from the outside. We fear that attempts to place undue restrictions on the FSILG rush process will create more problems than it will solve - cooperation, not control, is the correct attitude.

    Fall and Spring Dormitory Lotteries

    A dormitory lottery will be held in November of the fall term for housing in the following spring term and March of the spring term for the following fall term. These lotteries will be mandatory for all MIT undergraduates and one of the options will be to confirm their current residence. Two students may lottery together.

    This system lowers the barriers to change residence halls, making it much easier for students to live in more than one living environment, should they choose to do so. As the RSSC notes, the current system can perpetuate the idea that each student has only one place where they could find a home. Institutionalizing and socializing the idea of residence flexibility will encourage cross-community interaction because students are likely to visit their friends in former residence halls and in residences they are considering for the future.

    We believe that producing systemic instability by removing the ability of freshmen to stay in their freshmen year residence hall is incompatible with our goals of "house, home and community" by forcing people out of their home, their support structure. We understand that this system could cause the evolution of dormitories with disparate ratios of freshmen to upperclassmen, if living group demographic balancing does not happen on it own. We have no evidence to believe that a leveling would not happen, but should this be the case, the Student Life Council should interfere, if the unbalance is extreme. The most effective strategy for the SLC is likely a system of economic incentives. A blanket removal of squatting rights should be avoided if possible.

    We have also considered the argument that allowing freshmen to remain in their freshmen dormitories may decrease the incentive to consider Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups. We do not disagree with this argument, but we believe that the effects of squatting on new member recruitment will be minimal and, more importantly, that the costs of eliminating squatting are too high.

    Housing Guarantee

    Housing will be guaranteed for four years to all undergraduates. The current guarantee of contiguous housing for students is a valued part of the recruitment process of MIT and an important part of the educational value of the residence system. The pace and pressure of the academic rigors of the Institute are widely acknowledged, and always knowing you will have a roof over your head removes a potential source of significant stress. MIT's current residence system has an acknowledged problem in that it 'crowds' students into lounges and small rooms because there is not enough space in the residence halls to house all undergraduates who would like to do so. Even with the new residence hall, there will still not be enough spaces for undergraduates in the future system.

    In addition, the evolution of the FSILG system may also result in more undergraduates needing Institute housing. Though this effect may be temporary, as FSILGs learn to recruit in a radically new environment, the problem must still be addressed in the short term. We recommend the following prioritized solution:

    a. Crowd existing dormitory space and spread such crowding as evenly as possible between residence halls.

    b. Rent non-residence hall space for undergraduates, either on a per-room basis or entire buildings.

    c. Utilize graduate student housing for undergraduates, and provide non-residence hall housing for graduate students. MIT should subsidize such housing so that the price would be equal to that of in-system rents.

    Financial Support for Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups

    In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, MIT will provide direct financial support to FSILGs during the transition process. Supporting the FSILG system is important from an educational standpoint because of the different environments they provide for MIT students to live and learn, as briefly described above. FSILGs will be facing a radically different recruitment situation in 2001 and they must be given the opportunity to evolve to fit the new system.

    However, supporting the FSILG system also makes sense from a financial standpoint. The cost to create and maintain a 'bed' in an FSILG is substantially less than in a residence hall. To make the point dramatically - MIT could give every FSILG $1 million, for a total of $38 million, less than the $45 million estimated cost of building the new 350-person residence hall - and FSILGs house more than 1400 students. It would be foolish for MIT to attempt to save money by being parsimonious with FSILG support.

    We recommend that MIT should transfer funds to each FSILG in June 2001 in the amount of (35%)(total house capacity)(standard house bill). During a period of five to seven years, this support should diminish to a steady state of zero support. The precise formula for this reduction should be determined by the IFC and Alumni IFC, in coordination with the relevant administrators. We recommend that the initial support be greater than the predicted shortfall in house bills to allow FSILGs to invest in their future. The new member recruitment and selection environment is a large unknown and will require experimentation to optimize in the new environment. Just as the Institute is investing in educational experiments to improve the undergraduate curriculum, it should invest in the FSILGs so that they can experiment to improve the education and support they provide to undergraduates.

    Independent houses that are in particular financial trouble may apply for special funding beyond the direct support granted to each house, and perhaps extending to a period beyond the regular period of support.

    We recommend that MIT make a one-time contribution to the Independent Residence Development Fund of 10 million dollars. MIT is currently sponsoring renovations of its residence halls and as our Capital Expenditures sections shows we expect that to continue. We believe that providing FSILGs the financial resources needed to upgrade and repair aging homes will improve the living environment of the resident students. As we have said elsewhere and as faculty and administrators should be quick to appreciate, the quality of your home can significantly affect the quality of your work. MIT should invest in its students' homes.

    We recommend that MIT purchase houses for the two sororities that are currently un-housed. The sorority system at MIT has grown dramatically since the founding of Alpha Phi in 1984. Three sororities currently have houses and the two un-houses sororities have more than sufficient members to fill a house. The sex balance in the Institute, on an undergraduate level, continues to move towards a 50-50 ratio and the availability of housing options should reflect that movement. McCormick does provide a valuable choice in the residential system for women seeking an all-female living environment and adding more independent living group options will only enhance the choices available to women.

    We recommend that MIT support any single-sex fraternity which wishes to become co-educational. This may include the purchase of the current chapter house from the national organization or the purchase of a new house. This is important both because of MIT's policy of non-discrimination but also to allow the demographics of the FSILG system to change with MIT's demographics.

    MIT should support FSILGs that wish to move closer to campus. The Institute can provide this support in allowing three basic options will be: (1) an FSILG may lease land from MIT and build a building on it; (2) an FSILG may lease a building built on MIT land; and (3) an FSILG may purchase land from a non-MIT entity and build a building on it.

    Graduate Students in Fraternities, Sororities, and Independent Living Groups

    FSILGs may choose to be listed as graduate housing options in MIT's publications regarding such matters. However, we do not support a program that relies on graduate students as the primary source of financial support for FSILGs.

    There will be two options for billing: either (1) MIT will pay the full regular house bill for each graduate student, and may bill the graduate student whatever it wishes; or (2) FSILGs may set their own house bill for graduate students and bill the graduate students directly.