Letters to the Editor

Is MIT a 21st century cattle drive?

If the guest column by John Essigmann, Suzanne Flynn, Steven Hall, Dava Newman, and Charles Stewart (The Tech, Nov. 16, 2010) is any indication, the role of housemasters has changed dramatically since I was an MIT undergraduate.

There was a time when the MIT administration worked hard to recruit stellar housemasters such as Maggie and Jerry Lettvin (at Bexley), who were dedicated to enriching the lives of the students while providing much needed guidance and support. Perhaps most importantly, the housemasters were valued by both the student and the administration because they could be relied on to do everything within reason to advocate for their residents when conflicts arose between residents and the MIT administration. Their advocacy fostered exactly the kind of effective, civil, but vigorous dialogue which helped the Institute find an optimum path forward.

Unfortunately, as reflected in the guest column, the current administration seems to value housemasters who instead function like masters of a cattle drive charged with keeping the herd under control in order to minimize drama while maximizing the value of bringing the herd to market. This is beyond sad — it is disgraceful. These housemasters should be embarrassed to be caught serving as administration propagandists. They should be ashamed to be caught trying to justify the unilateral decrees of a dictatorial administration which, itself, is demonstrably unwilling to consider the legitimate interests of the undergraduates. If the new dining policies which the housemasters are endorsing are so wonderful for the students, why is it necessary to literally ram these policies down their throats?

There was a time when the administration treated undergraduates as adults. Today, the administration seems to regard them as infantilized cattle. There was a time when the administration made an effort to acknowledge and serve the legitimate interests of the undergraduates. Today, the administration seems willing to throw the undergraduates under a bus without thought or care. The previous administration blazed the cattle trail when it decided to dictate where freshmen can and cannot live. The current administration is following up by mandating not only what the cattle should eat, but when and where they must eat it. What will be the next mandate?

There was a time when students were aware of their institutional power and were not afraid to use it (sometimes to excess). There was a time when students would force the administration to immediately replace an administration propagandist masquerading as a housemaster. Today, students seem content to be driven like cattle to the slaughterhouse. Perhaps it is time for the cattle to stampede? Could the new policy succeed if the housing residents organized a boycott of the mandatory dining housing? Would a boycott’s disruption encourage significant numbers of prospective freshmen (and their parents) to choose to matriculate elsewhere? Will these questions be answered, or will the undergraduates simply swallow this latest administration insult whole?

Richard Kramer ’75