MIT's system of placing graduate students in residence with undergraduates in a pastoral care role (mentoring, emergency response and social support) seems to be somewhat unique. Many other universities employ a system of formal peer advising – hiring fellow undergraduate residents to monitor and advise their halls. MIT's system has numerous advantages, including the increased maturity, experience level and academic focus of graduate students, and the reduced stress level for the advisor compared with an undergraduate who has a more difficult task balancing the need to simultaneously act as both a peer and a supervisor.
The Graduate Resident Tutor (GRT) system in dormitories is well defined, including a Tutor Roles and Responsibilities document that attempts to clarify their sometimes confusing jobs as role models and respondents but not police. GRTs are immediately subordinate to their housemasters, which generally works well by allowing each residence team a flexible approach to dealing with issues in their houses. Occasionally, however, housemasters and GRTs come into disagreement in areas which are not specifically covered by the Roles and Responsibilities document; in these cases, due to the close hierarchical relationship between housemasters and GRTs, some GRTs feel they have few resources for arbitration.
The Resident Advisor (RA) system in FSILGs is less well defined. As there are no housemasters within FSILGs, the role of the RA is largely decided by the RA and the house residents themselves. In some instances the RA can be viewed as a "big brother or sister" to the undergraduates, and in that context a resource for them to approach when they experience problems. In other houses, the role is more formal. The RA may work with the house officers to make sure the house operates safely, or the process of house management may proceed with less involvement of the RA. Some students believe that the roles and responsibilities of FSILG RAs should be codified in a document similar to the one defining those of the GRTs, and that more resources should be available for training and support of FSILG RAs.
Students believe that one of the defining characteristics of the GRT/RA system that enables it to work so well is the trust that is carefully built up between GRTs/RAs and undergraduates by making clear that they are not placed in residence to police or inform on their charges. MIT should be careful to maintain this bond of trust by making clear that the role of the GRTs/RAs continues to be one of leading by example, not one of discipline and enforcement.
MIT's living groups, varsity teams, and other student activities provide opportunities for students to develop interpersonal and leadership skills. In fact, many alumni later report that their extracurricular activities/living situation defined their MIT experiences. In order for these skills to be properly developed, students need a significant degree of autonomy in managing the affairs of their house, team or group, without being subject to excessive micromanagement from the Institute. The results are leadership, organizational, and social abilities that prepare them to be effective for the remainder of their lives.
To a large extent this is currently the case – MIT students manage groups that have budgets in excess of $100,000 per annum, and coordinate events such as the IAP Mystery Hunt that involve hundreds of participants including people who never attended MIT, and the MIT Fall Career Fair, which interacts with hundreds of external companies and handles a budget and logistics on par with nearly any Institute event. Undergraduate dormitory and FSILG rush chairs and GSC’s graduate orientation chairs run comprehensive orientation schedules that rival or surpass MIT's official undergrad orientation in terms of planning and attendee satisfaction. Student officers that manage everything from finances to social calendars, community activities, and recruitment programs, are an integral part of MIT residence halls and FSILGs. Many FSILGs also have student house managers whose duties resemble those of employed house managers at dormitories. It would be difficult if not impossible to replicate in the classroom the education gained by assuming responsibilities such as these.
However, students do feel that in some respects the MIT bureaucracy has begun to encroach upon their freedom to learn all aspects of managing their extracurricular and student group activities. For example, MIT student groups are no longer allowed to maintain outside bank accounts. While this was in response to a significant – but isolated – case of fraud, it effectively removes an important aspect of financial planning – management of funds reserves and interest income – from the experience, and thus it is possible that a less blanket response may have been appropriate. In general, students feel that the leadership and management skills that are developed through self-governance outweigh the risks associated with such "silent partner" supervision by the Institute. They therefore believe that MIT should be unequivocal about its support for student self-governance of living groups and activity organizations.