Corporation: Please Help!

A Message to the MIT Corporation from the Campaign for Students

Too often, students are not included in the process of making decisions at MIT that directly impact them. For example:

Housing: Freshmen on campus. Closing the W1 grad dorm. Removing a floor from NW-35. Deciding on the new W1 floor plan. Transitioning Green Hall. Delaying W1.

Dining: Requiring a dining hall in W1. Overpricing inferior food. Limiting food selection and dining hall hours. Mandatory meal plans in some dorms. Planning to remove kitchens.

Student Support: Arresting hackers. Issuing a premature statement to the press on Star Simpson. Changing Financial Aid. Increasing undergraduate enrollment. Failing to comply with Americans for Disabilities Act handicap requirements.

Students raised the issue of student involvement with senior administrators last year. Student government leaders from the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council authored a letter with Phil Clay and Kirk Kolenbrander for the Faculty Newsletter, which acknowledged past problems and established the Task Force on Student Engagement (TSE) to address these concerns.

Twenty-seven professors signed a statement of support for the TSE in the newsletter. According to the newsletter, the TSE was “charged with developing a philosophy guiding student involvement, recommending opportunities for greater student participation, and proposing methods to ensure success.”

This year, the TSE has only had two official meetings. A third TSE meeting was only called to inform students of the delays to W1. The TSE has not started to examine ways to strengthen process or structure. President Hockfield hopes the TSE will be no longer necessary after this academic year.

Several students, faculty, and administrators on the TSE report that the committee has been ineffective since its creation, especially at addressing its original mission.

Why should you care about addressing these concerns?

Strengthening Community: We can eliminate tensions that have taken their toll on MIT’s sense of community.

Educating Student Leaders: There is no better way for student leaders to gain leadership experience than by starting with the issues they care about most.

Strengthening MIT’s Decisions: Involving students brings a fresh perspective to the table and ensures stakeholder buy-in.

Publicity: We have an opportunity to portray MIT as an innovative leader in student involvement and avoid bad press about MIT losing its much-vaunted culture of collaboration.

Alumni Donations: Once students leave MIT, they will remain more engaged with the community as alumni.

These Concerns will Persist: Student involvement was the focus of the Corporation Joint Advisory Committee last year; it has been an issue for decades.

Students need your help. Together, we need to foster a cultural shift where administrators better involve students in Institute decision-making. Together, we need to ensure administrators place a higher degree of trust and respect in the student body. We need to establish processes and structures which ensure clear and effective methods for communication and student involvement in decision-making. While students understand the need for compromise, we feel it’s only fair that we have a voice in the decisions that affect our lives.

We have brainstormed some structural and procedural ideas which we believe will help solve our concerns. While we understand the Corporation does not have the authority to implement all of these changes, we would appreciate any support you can give for the following ideas:

Publication of Minutes: MIT should establish a website to post minutes from Corporation, Academic Council, Presidential and Faculty committee meetings.

Committee Representation: The Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council should have at least one representative on the Academic Council, the Corporation, the Executive Committee, the Committee for the Review of Space Planning, the Building Committee, the Enrollment Management Group and other important bodies.

Advance Notification: A system needs to be designed to request input and foster involvement for all changes involving students the administration is considering, at least seven days before those decisions are finalized.

Community Conversations: Senior administrators, including the President, Provost, Chancellor, Executive Vice President, Vice Chancellor, and Dean for Student Life should attend monthly town hall meetings with students.

Presidential Office Hours: The President should follow the lead of many of MIT’s peer institutions by having open office hours for one hour per week.

Visiting Committees: The UA and GSC should have the opportunity to present to Visiting Committees.

TSE Legitimacy: The Task Force on Student Engagement should have an active website with agendas, minutes, blogs, and members. MIT has had serious problems in the way it involves students in decision-making for decades. The specific issues we raise may be new, but the fundamental problems have troubled MIT well before our time.

Quick research shows protests at MIT in the 1960s (divestment), 1970s (ROTC), 1980s (in loco parentis), and 1990s (freshmen on campus). More recently, there have been protests on campus in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2008. Today, we should not need to protest: our concerns should have been addressed a long time ago.

Nobody benefits from this controversy.

We realize this, so we prefer a more responsible approach than movements of the past. Unfortunately, we have made very little progress so far. This issue is not going away, and neither are the passionate students who are dedicated to change. Please, let us address this difficult issue once and for all in a serious and productive manner.

Let us stop asking “why should we involve students?”

Let us instead ask, “why not?”

Rachel Meyer ’10, Stephanie Schmit ’11, and Chris Varenhorst ’09 are members of the Campaign for Students.