8. Transition Support for FSILGs

The diversity of FSILGs at MIT is unparalleled in higher education. While FSILGs are not for everyone, they often provide more opportunities for leadership, service, and responsibility than some residence halls. Many FSILGs also offer lifetime membership in international or national organizations -- communities that will last decades after the student has left MIT. As is noted by the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, "The 1994 Senior Survey showed that 93 percent of independent living residents were either satisfied with their living group experience, compared with 80 percent of dormitory residents" (TFSLL, p66)

In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, MIT should 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 FSILGs 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.

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, and the total contribution would still be less than the $45 million estimated cost of building the new 330-person residence hall - and FSILGs house more than 1400 students. An attempt to save money by being parsimonious with FSILG support would be foolish.

The purpose of transition funding is to allow FSILGs to experiment, learn, and adapt in a new system. Students would lose an invaluable educational opportunity if a house were to close its doors because it was not given the chance to prove itself. Houses may choose to reposition themselves in the housing market, perhaps emphasizing the 'theme' of the FSILG more than during previous recruitment efforts. Some single-sex groups may decide, by principle or by looking at MIT's new demographics, that becoming a mixed gender living environment is desirable.

For the FSILG system to emerge from this evolutionary time vibrant and successful MIT must provide substantial financial support. We believe that in the first year of the new system, houses should be provided with more funds than the number of empty beds would indicate. These monies would allow houses to experiment with programming and reposition themselves in the upperclassmen housing market. 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 believe that the initial support should 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.

We recommend that transition funding be fixed as a proportion of the entire house, rather than the number of empty beds at any particular time, for several reasons. We should not penalize houses who are successful at adapting to the new system. Our system allows houses a more predictable budget situation than an empty-bed system, which would be tied to the uncertainties of recruitment. The incentive in a empty-bed system is that you receive less funds for an empty bed than a full one - this pushes houses toward focusing more on getting people in beds than in building an educational community. Most importantly, our system also provides for a steadier evolution, while an empty-bed system is likely to cause a downward spiral. Imagine a house that does not successfully rush in the first fall of the new system. Because the empty-bed system would fund only a portion of the empty beds, they are now in an even worse position to be successful the following year. Each year they do less well, and get less funds. The empty bed system relies far too much on the first year of recruitment in an entirely new environment and does not allow for houses to evolve and change as needed.

Further, we believe that the transition support should be based upon a standard house bill because the marginal cost of an additional member is minimal compared to the fixed costs of running the residence. Though we do not strongly object to basing support on the 'fixed cost' proportion of a house bill, we believe that such a change would be minimal and difficult to quantify and document. We also fear clashes between FSILGs and administrators about the difference between marginal and fixed costs. For example, consider the apparently obvious marginal cost of food. After consulting with kitchen managers, house treasurers, and professional house cooks, we found that the marginal cost of food is NOT proportional to the number of persons eating. The marginal cost is complex and non-linear, because food costs are variable and because small changes in menu can result in greater changes in cost than the addition or subtraction of individual members. We must stress that the social and member recruitment budgets of FSILGs do not vary according to membership size but according to program and that it would be inappropriate not to fund them.

We recommend that independent houses 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.

Sample calculation:

House bill = $5000/year
Average FSILG size = 40 beds
# of residential FSILGs = 36

($5000)(40)(.35)(36) = $2.52 million in the first year.

If, as may seem reasonable, the funding declines linearly for a period of five years to zero, the funding in subsequent years would be:

Year 2 = $1.89 million
Year 3 = $1.26 million
Year 4 = $630,000
Year 5 = 0

Total cost = $6.3 million.

Please note that for the equivalent of 63 new dormitory beds (assuming an average of $100 thousand per bed), MIT will have supported more than 1400 beds in FSILGs.

Graduate students should not be seen as a means of transitional or permanent support for FSILGs. Nonetheless, FSILGs that wish to recruit graduate students as members should be allowed and encouraged to do. Given the current housing shortage, graduate students would benefit greatly by rooming as boarders in empty FSILG beds. To encourage this practice, MIT should subsidize grad student residency in FSILGs. The RSSC's proposed subsidy of 80% of the housebill, declining 10% per year and becoming zero in 2006, is appropriate.

In addition to transition support, we recommend that MIT allocate additional capital funds to support FSILG's. This allocation was discussed in Section 5 (Capital Expenditures), but is expanded upon here. The total recommended allocation for all FSILG support -- including the transition funding described above -- is $30 million.

We recommend that MIT make a one-time contribution to the Independent Residence Development Fund of $10 million dollars, to be used to pay for needed renovations identified by an Alumni Interfraternity Council facilities audit. 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. MIT's admissions demographics have changed but other parts of the system have been slower to adapt, as recent reports have noted. 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-housed 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. 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.

Finally, we recommend that MIT 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.