John Hildebidle <email@example.com>
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.
Anecdotal reportage from students, I suppose. It's hard to see how a more "objective" measuring device could be devised. Anything but a questionnaire, please.
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."
It would be good to "embed" some of the positive aspects that students find in FSILGs and not in dorms. Among them are -- joint responsibility for living tasks (like cooking, cleaning, and so on). Advising and tutorial support from upperclassmen to freshmen/women. A sense of "sanctuary" and even "home."
As for indicators, the existence of any sort of formal structure for "living tasks," and the existence of a functioning "residence committee" would be key. The interpersonal contact would be harder to measure. But would it be possible to assign freshman advisee groups to the same residence? I know, I know, "assign" is a dirty word. But since the rest of the known world seems to manage to live with room assignments, why can't MIT? Certainly "rush" should be delayed until at least the spring of freshman year.
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.
The presence of "tutors" or advisors in the residence. The attitude of upperclass residents of the system. Not recent high-profile news reports, or assurances from deans and such. When my son and I were visiting campuses, his mother asked me to ask about drugs and alcohol. My son wisely advised me to stop asking -- "What are they going to say? That they approve of getting blasted every Saturday night?"
Things like the freshman advisee seminar program would be a big plus, too. This seems to be the norm, and in many places it is required. Could that be the case at MIT? I suspect that my colleagues, so eager in faculty meetings to spout off about "taking control of R/O," would fail to manage to find the time, when it came down to it. Sorry if I sound cynical, but frankly I am.
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?
Basic life-control issues cannot help but be left to the individual. No "school policy" is going to stop anyone from drinking or even getting drunk. I think our commitment to "choice of residence" is worthy but exaggerated. My own experience put me through a tedious freshman year (I didn't hate my roommates, but I had little in common with them, either), and then forced me to make a choice -- up to a point. I was not and did not expect a complete choice.
I guess what I'm arguing for is more "sensible" "adult" guidance (turors, fellows, upperclassmen) and a system of controlled or phased choice as far as actual residence goes. I think the FSILGs, despite their manifest stupidities (and frats that break the laws of the Commonwealth regarding serving minors should be shut down flat, in my modest opinion), do much good here (listen to Paul Gray or Larry Bacow on the subject -- neither of whom is a dewy-eyed romantic, after all).
I can't begin to tackle this one, on a busy morning. But surely student input must be maximal, and faculty-student contact in the process must be as large and positive as possible -- each group has much to learn about the other, in my view.
Sorry to have bypassed this ere now, and to be spotty in my responses. I resist the temptation to offer the Harvard House system as a model -- but damn it, it works.