Hockfield Promises More Student Input

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(foreground, from left) Undergraduate Association Senate Speaker Jason C. Forte ’09, Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the MIT Corporation Kirk D. Kolenbrander, President Susan J. Hockfield, and UA President Noah S. Jessop ’09 address a packed UA Senate meeting on Monday evening in W20-400.
David M. Templeton—The Tech

President Susan J. Hockfield met with the MIT Undergraduate Association in an senate meeting last night to discuss student issues and how to open channels of communication between students and the administration.

She apologized for the administration’s opaqueness and promised to schedule more meetings between students and administrators, and to hold monthly student lunches where students could talk to her one-on-one.

Hockfield began the night by reassuring students that the recent economic crisis would not affect MIT’s financial aid policies, and talked briefly about MIT’s role in the elections. But questions from the floor quickly turned the discussion to the issues brought up by the Campaign for Students, which organized a protest in Lobby 7 two weeks ago over student involvement.

Hockfield acknowledged that there was considerable room for improvement. “I think that we have been really bad with the communication,” she said. “We’re trying really hard to figure out what the communication channels should be.”

Several students asked about the administration’s policy on hacking. Hockfield said that there has not been a shared understanding of the definition of hacking. In order to define the acceptable bounds of hacking, Hockfield said she hoped “that [students] will meet with the Chancellor to discuss this and many other issues, not once, but many times.” The UA expects to have several conversations to clearly define acceptable hacking.

One student asked about the issue of limited accessibility and the administration’s complete lack of response when the issue was raised last February. Hockfield apologized for the administration’s lack of response: “I am enormously disappointed that an issue brought up in February has not been addressed,” she said.

In response to a suggestion to hold office hours, President Hockfield said that small lunch groups will be started to meet with her to discuss issues. “We will put student lunches on my calendar once a month,” she promised.

On the topic of W1 and the delay in construction, Hockfield confirmed that MIT won’t be opening that residence in 2010 … that means that any expected increase in admitted students will not be happening.”

Still, Hockfield maintained that “funds have not dried up,” as a previous Tech headline stated. W1 construction was delayed because the financial crisis made the value of the endowment hard to predict, she said. In reallocating the $90 million, MIT is simply protecting the unrestricted funds for what the money might have to be used for, Hockfield said.

In an Oct. 15 letter to the MIT community, Hockfield wrote that “for now, we do not foresee making any dramatic changes to our budget plans for this year.” In an Oct. 31 letter to alumni, she wrote the same thing: “For now, we do not foresee making any dramatic changes to our budget plans for this year.” She decided on Friday, Oct. 17 to postpone the $90 million spending on W1.

Hockfield also emphasized the importance of need-blind admission and need-based financial aid and that the our current economy will not affect these two policies that are “fundamental to who we are.”

The final question at the meeting was whether the administration would have handled the Star A. Simpson ’10 situation the same way today, or if it would provide stronger support to its students. “I don’t think that the response was our finest hour,” Hockfield said. “[The administration] said too much, spoke too soon.”

During the discussion, Hockfield also addressed recent events at MIT, including MIT’s role in the elections and the upcoming Diversity Leadership Congress.

MIT reaches out to both political campaigns to provide a view of what is needed for education and research, with a particular focus on energy, Hockfield said.

The Diversity Leadership Congress will join MIT students, administrative leaders, and diversity experts in an effort to diversify and “help build leadership culture at MIT,” Hockfield said. The DLC will meet on Nov. 18.