MIT’s Post Office May Be Closed; Final Decision Expected in October

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Customers make use of the MIT post office in the Student Center on Sept. 21. The post office is one of about 400 branches being considered for closure.
Meng Heng Touch—The Tech

The fate of the MIT post office will likely be determined next month, according to the United States Postal Service (USPS). The office, slated for closure along with eight other Boston-area university post offices, has been on the chopping block since a July 30 USPS announcement. If the MIT branch is closed, its users will have sixty days to adjust their operations and redirect mail to the Kendall Square post office before the MIT branch shuts its doors.

The possibility of the MIT post office’s closure arose as part of a widespread restructuring of USPS operations and has drawn opposition from the American Postal Workers Union and some MIT students, several of whom are facilitating efforts to keep the post office alive.

Dennis P. Tarmey, postmaster of North Reading, MA, and the USPS Greater Boston Discontinuance Coordinator, said that the fate of the office will be decided by Katherine E. Lydon, postmaster of Cambridge, MA, and Charles K. Lynch, the USPS Greater Boston district manager, in October.

Lynch and Lydon’s decision will then be forwarded to USPS headquarters for review and official approval.

Tarmey said that current employees of the MIT office would be relocated to other branches in or near Cambridge.

In a letter provided to current MIT post office box holders, Lydon wrote that current users of the MIT Post Office’s mailboxes would have the option to either transfer their boxes to the Kendall Square USPS station, located 0.8 miles away from the MIT Post Office, or change to residential carrier delivery. Parcel and signature item pickup would also be moved to the Kendall location.

Attached to the letter was a survey for MIT post office customers to complete and submit to Tarmey by today. Tarmey said that the survey would be used to evaluate how often customers utilize services like stamp purchase and package delivery and would be reviewed in the course of the closure decision.

Tarmey said that a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report listed the USPS as a “high risk” organization which could lose $7 billion this year and urged that the USPS restructure itself, in part by consolidating operations.

Tarmey said that this was the first time in the history of the USPS that official consolidations and closings have been considered, but the USPS’s High Risk status necessitated the need for action.

“I would like nothing better than to tell you that the Postal Service is a healthy, thriving agency from a financial viewpoint, but it would be irresponsible to do so,” he said.

Tarmey said that the USPS will monitor the situation at the Kendall station if the MIT station is closed, and will make changes to the operation of the office if the increased mail volume from MIT’s closure deems it necessary.

The Boston Metro Area American Postal Workers Union (APWU) has been campaigning since November of last year against post office closures and claims that the MIT post office has an estimated revenue of $371,000 a year and expenses of $169,875 a year, turning a profit of approximately $201,000 a year, a number cited by the union in a campaign to save the branch. USPS staff declined to comment on the profitability of the MIT post office. According to the USPS website, the MIT post office has a walk-in revenue of $386,000.

Tarmey said that the USPS evaluates not just the performance of individual branches but all operations in an area in its restructuring decisions: “Each post office is not an independent financial entity and no post office operates in a vacuum,” Tarmey said.

For the past week, Tech chairman Austin Chu G and Mitchell E. Berger ’03 have been organizing an MIT effort against the closing. Chu and Berger have distributed informational flyers, contacted area representatives in Congress, and contacted MIT administration to raise awareness of the proposed closure.

“We’ve been trying to coordinate an effort to contact sources and people who may bring more pressure to the USPS than individual students or individuals in the community might,” Chu said.

Their effort is independent of the APWU’s.

Berger expressed concern that the USPS was not effectively communicating the closure of the station to those who were not boxholders: “This process seemed to be moving along quietly, and that was one of the things that seemed wrong,” he said.

“We’ve certainly raised awareness of the issue. A lot of people are talking about it,” he said.

Both Chu and Berger, who is a member of the Lecture Series Committee, said it is much more convenient for student groups to have post office boxes housed in W20 than to rely on interdepartmental mail to deliver mail.

Kirk D. Kolenbrander, Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the Corporation, said that the MIT administration is aware of the community’s concern. Kolenbrander said that the administration is investigating how MIT can interface in the decision-making process.

Kolenbrander said that MIT’s communications and government relations offices are looking into the steps that MIT can take to act against the closure of the post office.

“I think every one of us in the MIT community understands the importance that the post office in W20 provides. It’s a marvelous resource,” he said.

“We take it as a fairly strong fact that the people of this community want this post office to exist.”

Even if the MIT post office closes, Tarmey said that the USPS could continue to provide adequate mail service in Cambridge. The Central and Kendall Square post offices are both less than one mile away from the MIT post office.

Bob Dempsey, Vice President of the APWU, sees things differently: “As far as I view things, the USPS is supposed to be a service. This is the part that’s confusing to me — I don’t understand if you’re in business to provide a service why you would close the office,” he said.

Dempsey said that the closure of university post offices is particularly inconvenient for students since most don’t own cars and cannot drive to the nearest post office.

Bobby White, Central Area Vice President of the Boston Area APWU, said that university post offices provide an inexpensive and convenient way for students to send packages not provided with other services.

And, referring to the $201,000 profit figure the APWU places on the MIT post office, White said, “If I was running a business, I’d want to have a hundred of these.”

Dempsey said that it remains to be seen if his and the APWU’s efforts to fight against closures have been effective, but that he has not seen the USPS “back off” on any plans.

He said that, although city hall meetings in the area were being organized, it was unlikely that they would occur before the USPS’s decision.

Regardless, White said that the APWU would continue to resist the closures until they were official.

“Once the service is gone, it’s not coming back,” he said.