The economic and physical resources of the Institute are finite, and we are constantly faced with demands for more space and more money for student extracurricular and community resources. Both undergraduate and graduate students seek further input in the setting of the Institute's economic priorities for these funds – not every student or student group can have everything they request, but they should at least be able to voice input in selecting which things they can't have. Student membership should be included on resource allocation committees and broader student input should be sought for wide-reaching policy decisions.
The vast and diverse collection of student life programs have ambitious and sometimes conflicting goals, and currently there is little prioritization of these goals. Administrators continually preach the virtues of student community, yet the current break-even goal of housing has resulted in near-market rates for graduate housing, forcing many graduate students to live far off-campus. Housing costs continue to hamper the formation of strong graduate student community ties, and hinder graduate student recruitment. The Institute needs to develop and communicate a clear vision of how to balance the competing virtues of community and financial independence. The Institute has long had a goal of housing half of the graduate community on campus. But growth of graduate programs has far outstripped the Institute’s actual building program, so the goal is far from being reached.
Many in the graduate community are greatly frustrated at the ever-increasing use of graduate beds as a means of addressing undergraduate housing needs that arise from local optimization and a lack of long-term planning in Institute decisions. The seemingly constant struggle to maintain graduate housing occurs throughout all of graduate housing, though the most intense aspect of this relates to Ashdown House. The Institute has at many times in recent decades pushed for the conversion of Ashdown into an undergraduate residence6, despite the fact that it has played a critically important role in the shaping and building the MIT graduate community over its vast history. Such actions not only devalue the communities in graduate residences, they also threaten to eliminate the few remaining universally affordable housing options for graduate students. The Institute needs to recognize the importance of graduate communities and consider the consequences of its decisions on not only its bottom line but also the effect that they have on student needs and communities.
Student real estate and student controlled spaces are in short supply at MIT, and allocation issues abound. Nonetheless, students are concerned that the Institute's desire for profit substantially reduces both the availability and utility of these spaces. The Stratton Student Center (W20) exemplifies these problems. Coffeehouse, a long-time late-night study and support option for students from all over campus, was closed several years back due to being unprofitable – and the Institute was not willing to step in and cover the cost of this existing support network.
Similarly, many students believe that MIT's highest priority concerning the vendor space in the Student Center is obtaining rental profit for MIT rather than providing affordable and popular services for students. For example, perennial student favorites Newbury Comics and Toscanini's were forced out of the Student Center due to high rents, and student representation on these decisions was non-existent. Conversely, when student wishes are taken into account the result has been wildly successful as in the case of Anna's Taqueria. Students therefore seek the opportunity to provide input in determining the optimal allocation of spaces and services that are nominally student-focused.
The wellness of both undergraduate and graduate student populations is dependent on the efficacy of MIT's medical services. There is a considerable lack of awareness of available support networks and services, and many students complain of excessive wait times. Concerned about mental health, MIT Medical sponsors a series of student-groups including MedLinks and SaveTFP, in an attempt to reduce stress and foster community. Improving student awareness of existing programs, particularly within living groups, will encourage more students to take advantage of these services.
The student body recognizes a general trend in MIT student resource management: attempt to generate revenue, drive out or destroy existing support resources, and then try and enact more expensive, top-down support solutions. It is well understood that funding is finite, but it makes more sense, from an economic and community standpoint, to embrace and extend existing resources rather than destroy them to generate revenue. Furthermore, empowering students through direct governance or the use of student input usually yields policies that generate the student support necessary for success.
6 The conversion of Ashdown House into an undergraduate residence was pushed for by the MIT administration as early as 1955, and as recently as 1994 and 2001, with the former resulting in the housing of 45 Sigma Kappa sorority sisters in Ashdown for three years, and the latter resulting in the formation of the Senior Segue program still in effect today.