Charles Stewart III <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning stresses the importance of using the entire MIT experience to educate the whole student. In the context of the residential system, what evidence at some time in the future would lead to you believe that this is occurring? Give as many concrete examples as possible.
I think that the question is somewhat misguided, but I'll try to answer it any way... but first, let me say why it's misguided.
I would hope that the Task Force report is not being read in a way that supposes we will continue to segment our educational system in such a way that we can partition the educational gain among its various discrete units--60% to classroom, 20% to residence, 10% to extracurriculars, 10% to MTV, etc. The right way to ask this question, in light of the Task Force report, is to ask what are the marks of an educated student, what are the PARTICULAR marks of an educated student that would tend to be acquired outside a formal academic setting, and what are the MEASURES of those marks? THEN you ask about whether there are particular activities or settings in the residential system that help to accomplish the task.
In this context, I would create a series of measures particular to MIT's
residential system divided into two parts--input and output. On the input
side, I would want to know things like:
Outputs are harder to measure, and may become apparent only well after a resident leaves MIT. Thus, I'd adopt many of the questions from the recent senior and alumni surveys that ask about MIT's role in educating students about current events, art, etc., and about MIT's role in helping students choose a major and a career. I would NOT ask these questions in terms of the residential system, however, because I know from the scholarly literature on survey research that respondents tend to be VERY BAD at even remembering inputs, much less judging their effects.
Identify the values you would like embedded in the new residential system. For each value, identify 2-3 indicators which would tell us we are "walking the talk."
First, about the slang: This is a phrase popular in African American churches, where the line tends to go "you gotta walk the walk, not just talk the talk."
Imagine it is 2005. Describe a day in the life of an MIT sophomore. What will he/she do, with whom, where, to what end?
Any day? I choose December 24. She will be at home, sleeping late, getting together with friends, and decompressing from an intense semester behind her.
Imagine you are the parent of a prospective MIT freshman. What will you look for that will convince you that MIT will provide your child with comprehensive preparation for the world of work and life.
That's a big question. Still, my demands are simple. Is the curriculum rigorous and sensible? Is it balanced (meaning between vocational and advocational pursuits?) Do graduates go on to rewarding careers or good graduate schools?
Adulthood is a time of responsibility and privilege where issues such as finance, health and balance, shelter, citizenship, and values system definition are largely left to the individual to establish. Which responsibilities and privileges of adulthood should be expected of all members of the MIT community, and which should be developed over time for one or more segments? What must occur within the residential system to foster that development?
Again, I'm not certain this is the right question, if the intent is to ask a developmental question. "Adulthood" is a legal category and since 99.9% of our students are over 18, the obvious answer is that they should get all the responsiilities and privileges of adulthood. What I think you're asking about is what choices should be unconstrained and which should be constrained, as a consequence of students being students, and thus learning how to exercise responsible adulthood.
You might also be asking about expectations of citizens in a community? That is, if we believe we are a community, can someone be excluded from it simply from their indifference? If someone wants to free-ride on the efforts of his or her peers, for instance, in living in a residence hall, should we allow this?
Now to try and answer the question:
With respect to the _living environment_, where we are much less expert in judging whether someone is capable of making the "right" decision, you have to draw some arbitrary lines. I would _assume_ that most frosh coming to MIT have been relatively sheltered from the responsibilities of adulthood, and would therefore make some significant choices for them, like where to live, whether to buy into the meal plan, etc. After the freshman year I would assume that sufficient learning has gone on that most (feasible) constraints would be removed: choose where you want to live, what you want to eat, and what you want to do.
In return, I would impose responsibilities and sanctions similarly. That is, you learn in the freshman year what the community's values are and if you mis-step, the sanctions are light and oriented toward education, not punishment. After that, "choices have consequences."
With respect to the academic side, where are are better suited to making judgements, I think students should demonstrate the ability to take on more and more responsibilities. For instance, students shouldn't be allowed to declare a major until they've demonstrated mastery of the core. They shouldn't be allowed to take a subject overload until they've demonstrated an ability to handle 48 units well. Etc.
The answer is different for each of creating, implementing, and assesing....
For creating, you are going to need a substantial commitment from a small number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni over one or two years. They need to be given the time and resources to study what other peers are doing, to understand the issues of residential education generally, and to draw together a cogently-argued statement of what should happen in the future. All the participants in this effort need to understand that this would be their PRIMARY institute administrative responsibility for the time period, and their "bosses" (e.g., department heads and advisors) would have to positively agree to this, too. I have come to the sad (but realistic) conclusion that nothing of this magnitude can be done well at a place like MIT unless there is a serious time commitment AND unless the people that such a committee report to are supportive of the effort. The chair of the committee, in particular, needs to have a significant portion of his or her teaching time bought off, so that she or he can help to guide the intellectual direction of the group. Finally, there needs to be Cracker Jack (r) staff support.
For implementing, you have some models in place that could deliver on what we need to do---we just need more of it. There needs to be an active role of groups like the Committee on Student Affairs on helping to provide policy guidance to the enterprise (or something like the Residential Council that the Clay Committee called for.) Equally important, you need senior personnel who have the trust and respect of such a group, and who can implement the policy arrived at. With middle-level staff support to help such senior personnel, the current staffing in place in the residences (housemasters plus GRTs) could probably handle the work, with a little more professional staff support thrown their way, too.
For evaluating, you should rely on a Residential Council to constantly monitor what's happening in the residential system, and then have a visiting committee to swoop down every three years or so.