MIT Presidential Task Force
on Student Life and Learning


Final Report of the
MIT Advisory Group on Orientation and Residence

December 5, 1997

submitted by

Dean Andrew M. Eisenmann
Prof. Suzanne Flynn
Prof. Paul E. Gray
Ms. Marion L. Groh
Mr. Robert K. Kaynor
Mr. Steven C. McCluskey
Ms. Pamela Mukerji
Mr. Ashesh P. Shah
Mr. William W. Shen
Prof. Charles Stewart, III
Ms. Holly B. Sweet
Prof. J. Kim Vandiver, Chair


The charge to the committee from President Vest (October 31, 1997). This committee was given the charge to advise MIT's senior administration on potential decisions "regarding orientation, residence selection and associated matters affecting the admission, introduction to the campus, and housing of the Class of 2002." We were tasked with providing a small number of principles and options for consideration. In responding to this charge we have considered the input from a wide range of sources, including the proposals from the faculty and the Inter Fraternity Council (IFC), and ideas from the community Forum on November 5th addressing the question, "Should freshmen be housed on campus?" and survey results from parents, students and faculty. We reviewed information from the Planning Office and the Office of Admissions and volumes of input from alumni, students, staff and faculty.

The Feasibility Of Dormitory-Based Housing For All Fall '98 Freshmen

Our first goal was to determine if it was feasible to house all freshman on campus for the fall of '98. This required creating approximately 360 additional beds on campus for freshmen. This is possible if one were willing to accept a human cost measured in additional crowding of undergraduate dorms and displacement of approximately 200 graduate students along with a host of secondary problems. We concluded this was not in MIT's best interest for the Fall of 1998. The Institute should anticipate the possibility of a temporary jump in the demand for on campus housing next fall. With the recommendation decided to not attempt to house all freshman on campus next fall we turned to the opportunities presented by considering the orientation of students to campus and improvements to our system of residence selection.

Strongly Conflicting Points Of View

Our endeavor to understand the key issues revealed a problem that if left unaddressed would likely derail any attempt to improve the residence and orientation system. That problem is a fundamentally different point of view between the faculty and the students with respect to what is broken in the present system of introducing freshmen to campus. We grossly simplify the issues here with the intent of naming the problem, not making evident all of its nuances. On the one hand many faculty believe that the current residence system obstructs the academic orientation of new students to the university and leads to a singular loyalty to the living group at the expense of a lack of substantive intellectual connection to the academy. On the other hand students widely believe that faculty put little effort into building relationships with students, and furthermore, fail to understand that living groups provide the support network essential to students, beginning in the fall of the freshman year. As a consequence, students are highly cynical of attempts by the faculty to "fix" the problem by attacking the present residence selection system. It is the conclusion of this committee that real improvements to our system of orientation and residence selection will only come about if both students and faculty come to accept commonly shared principles and goals and make a commitment to working towards those goals.

The credibility of the faculty and the administration will depend upon real commitment to engaging students in substantive orientation programming, including working with students inside and outside of the residence system. The faculty need to become familiar with the residence system from firsthand experience in order for their attempts to change it to be credible.

The students must show commitment to real progressive change within the residence system, both in day to day operation and particularly in the process of residence selection. The students must support the efforts of the faculty to put new orientation programming in place. Upperclassmen damage their credibility with staff and faculty when they undermine attendance at orientation activities.

A Spirit Of Experimentation

There is widespread agreement that the present system is flawed and needs improvement. There is considerable variety of opinion on what will work and what will not. In many cases we must make our best judgement as to what will work and give it a try, with the understanding that we continually assess the results and make the necessary adjustments. A goal of this committee is establish an expectation in the community for experimentation, assessment and change. This is a departure from recent practices which often emphasized a protectionist attitude and stymied attempts to try new ideas in residence selection and orientation practices.

A Shared Enterprise

Success will require that students, staff, alumni, and faculty will be required to work toward common goals. Everyone will need to contribute, but with different emphasis for different groups. Students will have to bear much responsibility for fulfilling expectations for change in the residence selection system and in establishing and maintaining year round standards of conduct in the housing system. Faculty and administrative staff will carry much of the burden with respect to developing new initiatives in the orientation of students to MIT. Success in both dimensions, R and O, is required to build trust in the community.

A commendable step has been taken by the IFC Presidents' Council. They recently approved the proposals of the IFC Committee on R/O Proposals, chaired by our committee member William Shen. The IFC R/O proposals have been reviewed in the preparation of this final report and in many places we used language from their proposal. Except where significant no attempt is made to trace the source between the IFC proposals and our own, because there was much cross-fertilization of ideas between the two groups over the last three weeks. The IFC proposal should be preserved as a separate document, because it demonstrates the willingness of the FSILG's to work on improving the system. The work of the IFC has put the faculty in the position of playing catchup. The IFC report is attached as an appendix.

The first step that we believe should be taken is to appoint an ORIENTATION '98 POLICY COMMITTEE, composed of faculty staff and students. This committee would begin work immediately to plan orientation for next fall, and would be separate from the orientation implementation team. In appointing that committee, rename R/O, Orientation.

The remainder of this report is divided into two main sections, one dealing with residence selection and the other with orientation. Guiding principles are described and suggestions for specific actions and improvements are given.

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