Peggy Enders <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.
* The dining halls are open and operating at full, nourishing bore. Students don't even think of buying takeout food to bring back to their rooms (to consume at the computer terminal). There is too much happening/too much to talk about over dinner.
* In the same context, the dining halls provide a hospitable place for students to bring their advisors, UROP supervisors, favorite instructors. These are regular occurences all over campus, and on any weeknight (perhaps even on weekend nights and at lunch) faculty, staff, and students can be found enjoying each other's company over a meal. Housemasters are well supported and inclined to host such activities, which provide excellent faculty-faculty social activities as a bonus. Everyone has a great time. People have learned to relax and share a few laughs.
* The residence halls provide adequate and well-appointed spaces in which to schedule events that accompany Institute-wide activities such as MIT Colloquia (which have been revived and occur frequently). A Community Evening exists each week where no classes or evening exams have been scheduled, thus making possible events where students can attend earlier than 10 pm. Perhaps no homework is due anywhere on campus the next day, also assuring that students will have a light evening. It has become a habit for faculty and some staff to remain on campus for Community Evening events -- certainly not every week, but everyone does his/her fair share.
* Regular programming exists that takes advantage of the Community Evenings and other opportunities to bring faculty and students together as well as to provide students with personal and educational development opportunities. This programming is managed jointly by ODSUE offices (RSLP and ASO, e.g.). There is a deliberate and consistent theme. One of those themes: MIT will give you just about anything you want if you know how to get it. Another (implicit) theme: you're probably wasting your money going to MIT if you're only going to class.
* ODSUE and other staff from around MIT are in the residence halls and not just for meetings or visits around some crisis. Again, they're seen there at lunch, various residence halls adopt one or two staff and take advantage of the connection to improve their access to information, to resources, etc.
* Residence-based advising is the key advising delivery system for freshmen. Freshman Advising Seminars are residence-hall based, because the new Orientation system has finally made this possible. Seminars are often held over lunch or dinner. Freshman Advisors develop a regular relationship with particular halls and are advocates for it and its particular traditions.
* Upperclass advising also provides some residence-based options. In any event, "advising" has taken on a new, broader meaning and really is defined by the mentoring relationships that ought to happen between students and the people who are here to help them grown and learn. Part of "advising" happens in the residence halls, because Graduate Resident Tutors are finally being properly trained and developed to undertake their important role. GRT's are reinforced to take their roles seriously, because departments recognize the importance of graduate students' acquiring leadership and teaching skills. Finally, there are Community Evenings which are explicitly times when all advisors visit residence halls for an evening meal and perhaps some sort of interactive event.
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." Tooling away at your computer day and night without much social interactivity is not a good way to spend your entire college career. Indicators: - dining halls that are active and lively because students aren't taking meals back to their rooms. - frequent, fun events are held to counteract the impulse to tool in isolation (e.g., Johnson Games on some sort of manageable scale). - we have managed to coordinate syllabuses, quizzes, and homeworks so that the workload is better spread throughout a week and a term.
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.
* a physical environment that looks less run-down, dirty, and narrowing. Instead, the physical campus is open, green, expansive. There are more walkways that avoid crossing major streets but which are still outside. There is more light and glass. The infinite corridor and other walkways have more places to sit down and congregate. There are no classes greater than 100 students. The space where 26-100 exits has been turned into an atrium that in the winter is humidified and full of exotic plants. And there are places to congregate, socialize, meditate. Like Swarthmore, say.
* a freshman year that is less rigid, again more expansive and energizing. I have personally spent too much time watching what happens in 26-100 during a typical lecture to think that that's the way I would want either of my daughters to spend most of Monday-Wednesday-and Fridays. As a parent, I would want to walk by the typical recitation section room and see students wide-eyed and interested and teachers similarly disposed [right now, each seems to bring the other down].
* faculty who would not reinforce the sense of their work being the only important work, but in fact recognize that other work, other studies, other learning are also interesting and worthy of respect. an 18-year old is looking to the faculty for clues on how to behave, on what to regard as important -- I wouldn't want my daughters exposed to some of the dysfunctional attitudes and compulsiveness that characterizes many of our technical faculty. To often we see our so narrowly-focussed faculty hit a wall at 40 when they are no longer able "to keep up" in their field and there was nothing else in their life. I would want my children to be taught by relatively happy, open-faced people who have a basic understanding of the developmental needs of adolescents. I would want to be sure that more than a single individual (perhaps not even that) would take a great interest in her and her experience here (and that we wouldn't consider her lucky to have such a person in her life because all students are similarly fortunate).
I have not answered all questions and already have called for a considerable increase in faculty and staff time to devote to these activities. Student time and partnership is also essential. It would be naive to assume that anything could happen without School dean and department head cooperation and buyin. Faculty job descriptions would have to be created that added the Community element as on a part with at least teaching. Staff would have to be rewarded to be more active and energetic in this area by developing job descriptions and expectations that some portion of their productive time was spent in this direction. And then all dining halls would have to be reopened, MIT would have to be willing to pay for us all to eat frequently on the tute tab, etc. Work on the expanded notion of advising would take much political persuasion. Rewards have to be in the form of promotions (both faculty and staff) and additional salary dollars.