THE REZEK-SHER PROPOSAL
A Vision for the MIT Residential System
Christopher M. R. Rezek (Alpha Delta Phi)
Jeremy D. Sher (Next House)
May 6, 1999
This document is a comprehensive and self-contained proposal for the future of the residence system at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We believe it addresses the interests and concerns of all relevant stakeholders: future MIT students, the parents of undergraduates, FSILGs, Residence Halls, graduate students, faculty, and staff.
It is our hope that it will be substantively adopted by the Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Council, the Interfraternity Council, the Dormitory Council, the Association of Student Activities, and other relevant bodies. It is also our hope that the Residence System Steering Committee will adopt this proposal or the Joint Proposal of the groups listed above.
We chose to present our recommendations as a full alternate proposal, rather than as a point-by-point response to the recent draft proposal of the Residence System Steering Committee, to show that our ideas are coherent and can form a basis for a residence system that can work.
0. First Things First
0.1 Freshmen on Campus
The Committee should oppose, in principle, the idea that freshmen should be required to live in residence halls. The proposal submitted to the Chancellor should make it clear that the Committee was working within that constraint, and did not seriously consider full freshman housing choice for that reason.
0.2 Graduate Housing
The Committee should endorse, in principle, the need to build an additional graduate residence hall immediately. Although the Institute may be unable to do this at this time, the Committee should make it clear that an urgent need exists for graduate housing, and that MIT should fulfill this need as soon as possible.
0.3 Residential Dining
The Committee should endorse, in principle, the final report of the design phase of the Institute Dining Review. Although the Institute may be unable to implement that report's new dining model this at this time, the Committee should make it clear that there is significant need for a comprehensive residential dining program.
0.4 Student Center
The Committee should endorse, in principle, the future use of the Student Center for student-life purposes, and the idea that student life should take precedence over the Student Center's use as commercial and convention space.
0.5 Athletic Complex
The Committee should endorse, in principle, the need to build a new Athletic Complex in order to foster physical fitness and support the intramural and varsity athletics at MIT, which make invaluable contributions to the MIT community.
1. Residence Selection and Organization
1.1 Affiliations between Residence Halls and FSILGs
Connections between residence halls and FSILGs are a crucial part of building MIT-wide community. Affiliations between specific residence halls and FSILGs could facilitate these connections. These affiliations would ideally be mutually selected, and affiliated living groups would conduct programming together. It is also recommended that new members of FSILGs live in their affiliated dormitory.
1.2 Dormitory Pre-Selection and Rush
During the summer, freshmen will be provided with descriptions and contact information for the residence halls. Summer contact with dormitories will be designed to maximize the amount of information provided to freshmen. The freshmen will then submit lottery choices, as well as living style preferences (smoking/non-smoking, early/late riser), and will be assigned temporary rooms. There will be a full dormitory lottery following both dormitory and FSILG Rush. Temporary residents in residence halls would not have squatting rights, in order to provide them with incentives to look around, though it is anticipated that many freshmen will choose to list their temporary dorm as their first choice.
1.3 FSILG Rush
During the summer, freshmen will be provided with descriptions and contact information for the FSILGs. Summer contact with FSILGs will be designed to maximize the amount of information provided to freshmen. FSILG Rush and non-residential pledging will occur prior to the beginning of the fall term. This is the best time for Rush because it removes it from the academic year, enabling freshmen to focus on their classes, reduces the inertia effects that a later Rush would entail, has the optimal weather for Rush, and because other times would require significant changes in MIT's academic calendar. The IFC has demonstrated its ability to self-regulate FSILG Rush; this practice should be continued. However, the IFC should take steps at address perennial concerns about hard flushing and repeat violators of Rush rules.
1.4 Correction Lotteries
A voluntary and broadly publicized "residence-hall correction lottery" will occur no later than one month prior to the end of each term. We believe that a primary reason many students do not switch dormitories is that it is currently a hassle to do so. An optional correction lottery would remove this hassle, introducing more fluidity into the system, while not forcing students to move if they do not wish to do so.
1.5 Blocking in Lotteries
Each dormitory lottery, including the first, will allow students to lottery together, or "block". These groups would likely be in the 5-20 range, but no official ceiling should be set.. This flexibility in block size would provide students with incentives to block small, because a larger block will have a lesser chance of getting first choice in the lottery, while not setting hard limits that may force students to choose between friends. Also, FSILG pledges blocking together should be guaranteed space in their affiliated dormitory.
1.6 Control over Room Assignments
Each house's student government will continue to control internal room assignments, including the assignment of members of blocks.
2.1 The Residence System Council
A Residence System Council (RSC) will provide the administrative leadership for the residential system at MIT. Half of this group will be composed of students, the other half of faculty and staff. The Presidents of the Interfraternity Council, the Dormitory Council, the Undergraduate Association, and the Graduate Student Council (or their designees), and the Section Head of Residential Life and Student Life Programs (or his or her designee) will be ex officio and voting members. It is suggested that faculty members be selected, at least in part, from the Committee on Student Affairs. Further student membership should be selected through the standard nominations process.
2.2 The Residence Funding Board
The RSC will create a Residence Funding Board (RFB), which will disburse funding for residence-based programs. A portion of this money will be reserved for programs oriented toward freshmen. Staff support will be provided by two new positions within Residential Life and Student Life Programs.
3. Theme Houses
3.1 Types of Theme Houses
All new theme houses should be co-curricular or extra-curricular in nature, and should be approved by the RSC after an appropriate period for public comment. Theme houses should ideally be oriented toward interests where there is a demonstrated need for support. A Music theme house would probably be appropriate, but an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science theme house would be questionable. Also, due to limitations on the number of houses, theme houses should have fairly general themes: a Music theme house would be appropriate, but a theme house devoted to Schubert could be too specific.
3.2 Member Selection in Theme Houses
A theme house would not be a theme house if it could not maintain its character. Each house should have a publicly available set of criteria for membership, which would be approved by the RSC. There are two implementations of selectivity that seem to work the best: open lottery with a certain number of eliminations (perhaps 30% of total available slots), or a mutual and final lottery with an algorithm that maximizes satisfaction. We are currently undecided between these two options.
4. The Transition for the FSILG System
4.1 Direct Financial Support
In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, MIT will provide direct financial support to FSILGs during the transition process. During the academic year of 2001-'02, MIT should transfer funds to each FSILG in the amount of (25%)(total house capacity)(standard house bill). During a period of four to six years, this support should diminish to a steady state of zero support. The precise formula for this reduction should be determined by the IFC and AIFC, in coordination with the relevant administrators.
4.2 Emergency Financial Support
Independent houses that are in particular financial trouble may apply for special funding beyond the direct support granted to each house, and perhaps extending to a period beyond the regular period of support.
4.3 Graduate Students as FSILG Residents
FSILGs may choose to be listed as graduate housing options in MIT's publications regarding such matters. There will be two options for billing: either (1) MIT will pay the full regular house bill for each graduate student, and may bill the graduate student whatever it wishes; or (2) FSILGs may set their own house bill for graduate students and bill the graduate students directly.
4.4 FSILGs Moving to Cambridge
MIT will provide logistical support to FSILGs that wish to move closer to campus. The three basic options will be: (1) an FSILG may lease land from MIT and build a building on it; (2) an FSILG may lease a building built on MIT land; or (3) an FSILG may purchase land from a non-MIT entity and build a building on it.
5. Program and Support
5.1 Undergraduate Resident Advisors
The residence-hall experience will include Undergraduate Resident Advisors (URAs). URAs will apply for their positions in February. They will be paid a stipend or will receive academic credit. There will be one URA for every roughly 10 to 15 freshmen. URAs will be appropriately selected and trained by RLSLP. All undergraduates (dormitory, FSILG, and off-campus) will be considered on a fair and equal basis for URA positions. Members of particular dormitories or affiliated FSILGs shall have preference in being assigned to that dormitory.
5.2 Graduate Resident Advisors
Graduate Resident Advisors will apply for their positions by June. They will be paid a stipend. There will be one GRA for roughly every 30 to 50 undergraduate students. GRAs will be appropriately selected and trained by RLSLP.
5.3 Assistant Housemasters
Each residence hall will have a non-residential staff member to serve as an Assistant Housemaster. The Assistant Housemaster will work with the Housemaster, House Manager, and the dormitory student government to coordinate educational programs within the residence hall.
5.4 House Faculty Fellows
Faculty members may choose to be officially associated with a particular living group, whether a residence hall or an FSILG, as a House Faculty Fellow. House Faculty Fellows may apply to the RSC for funding to create programs for their affiliated living group.
5.5 Student-Faculty Dining
Students who bring a faculty or staff member to a residential meal will eat at half-price. During the first year of implementation, this will be an open program, but the RSC should set an appropriate ceiling thereafter.
5.6 Student Development Program
While it is important to allow for entrepreneurial programming, there is also a need for programming that is centrally planned. This programming should focus on the "community" aspects of education mentioned in the Task Force report. While a Student Development Program would not be limited to the residence system, the system will have a key role in implementation.
Appendix A. Ideas We Do Not Support
This appendix addresses specific suggestions from the RSSC's Evolving Framework and other possibilities that are not mentioned in our alternative proposal. We believe that our proposal accomplishes everyone's goals without the following undesirable effects.
A.1 The Ashdown-MacGregor Switch
We do not support the idea of MacGregor House becoming graduate housing and Ashdown House becoming undergraduate housing. Each of these residences provide unique opportunities for their respective constituencies: Ashdown is the only graduate residence with all double rooms, and MacGregor is the only undergraduate residence with all single rooms.
A.2 "Experimental" Primarily-Freshman Dorms
We do not support the creation of an "experimental" primarily-freshman dormitory (PFD). In part this objection is to the idea of a primarily freshman dorm. This objection is also against an "experimental" dormitory, which could require another near-complete redesign of the residence system in four to six years. Experimental programs at MIT have a tendency to become permanent: any experiment should include the specific process and time schedule for the review and final decision. In addition, unequal programming would necessarily plague any system with only one freshmen hall. Freshmen-oriented programs should be provided generously in every residence hall.
A.3 The Idea of Primarily-Freshman Dorms
We do not support the idea of placing all freshmen in primarily-freshman dorms, which was specifically opposed by the Lewis Commission, the Ryer Report, and the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, and is opposed by a substantial portion of the student body. PFDs deprive freshmen of the opportunity to live in a class-integrated living environment. The advantages of living with many upperclassmen have been recognized and proven at MIT for decades.
A.4 The Illusion of a Fatally Flawed System
We do not support the idea that radical solution is necessary. This is not to say that radical thinking should be avoided. However, the RSSC should not mistake a need to think "outside the box" for a need to create a system that is extremely different from the current one. While requiring freshmen to live on campus is a radical change to MIT, it should not be assumed that this necessitates a need to radically change what is left of an excellent residence system. Our residential system has many recognized strengths that make it one of the best in the country. Any new system should draw on our strengths, not cancel them.
We readily acknowledge that MIT's residences are not perfect. MIT has grossly under-recognized and under-supported the residence system for most of its history. Therefore, no one should confuse the failures of the current system with the failures of MIT to support that system.
If the RSSC should, by some misfortune, choose to ignore this reality, that mistake would haunt the community in two ways. First, because our system is one of the nation's best, it is no surprise that another system build up without regard to our current strengths will not be as good as our present system. Second, because the problem of support is central to areas where the residential system has not reached its potential, any new system in which support is not substantially increased will be likely to fail in all the familiar ways.
This community needs the best residential
system with the best support an Institute can provide. In order
to improve our system, we need to know where the problems lie.
They lie, to a significant degree, in meager support and
haphazard effort by MIT, not in the strong, popular, and
educational webs of community that students have built up with
their own hard work. To draw on the potential of these strengths,
students, faculty, and administrators need to join together in
support of the excellence of our residential community.
Appendix B. Principles of an Excellent Residence System