Looking in-depth at orientation plans

Students take a critical stance, but UAAP plans still not final

Following the Undergraduate Association emergency meeting last week, several student groups have responded in an effort to preserve Residential Exploration (REX) during next year’s orientation. While final changes to Orientation have not yet been confirmed, a reduced schedule could lead to timing conflicts, which could cut back on available time during the REX period. The final scheduling decision rests with Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, and will be made by mid-February, according to Julie B. Norman, Senior Associate Dean and Director of Undergraduate Academic and Advising Programming.

In response to the proposed changes to Orientation, incoming and outgoing members of the Dormitory Council (DormCon) convened to discuss how to address their concerns to Clay and Norman. The meeting resulted in a public letter addressed to Clay that called for the restoration of a full-length REX and student inclusion in future administrative talks concerning Orientation.

Dean of Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80 also wrote a letter, but in response to last week’s Tech article on REX. “Though we will look for ways to shorten the overall Orientation period, we do not plan to shorten the REX period in the coming year,” Hastings wrote.

UA President Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 said that the UA does not currently have a stance on the UAAP’s proposal to shorten Orientation. He added that the UA will have a better-defined stance following the Wednesday UA executive meeting.

On Thursday, DormCon will hold its first meeting of the spring semester. DormCon President Christina R. Johnson ’11 said that the meeting is open to the MIT community and will focus on REX and Orientation. “People should come,” Johnson said.

At the meeting, DormCon will be discussing the next steps in approaching the UAAP and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education (DUE) about the proposal to shorten Orientation. According to Johnson, DormCon plans to meet with Clay and Norman.

Yesterday, a group of students protesting the shortening of REX handed out flyers at the class registration tables in DuPont. The flyers stated that “drastic, unjustified cuts to orientation are afoot, threatening everything from dorm culture to academics.”

Moving forward with orientation changes

In the coming weeks, the Student Life Orientation Programs and Experiences committee, or SLOPE, will work with the UAAP and DUE to determine a final plan for the reduction of orientation. SLOPE includes representatives from DormCon, UA, FSILGs, and SaveTFP.

“I believe communication by all stakeholders is very important and I am committed to it,” Hastings said in an e-mail interview with The Tech. Hastings advised students to address any concerns they may have with the proposed changes to their SLOPE representatives.

According to Norman, the UAAP and DUE are working on a schedule for all adminstration-run events, including the Advanced Standing Exams, the Math Diagnostics Test, and Convocation. The remaining blocks of free time will be dedicated to student-run activities, including REX.

According to Hastings, the UAAP has been conducting background studies to form the proposal, including meetings with a faculty advisory committee, DSL, International Students Office, Housemasters, MIT Medical, DUE, and the UA emergency meeting).

Students voiced concern that by reducing orientation by two days, less time would be available for official REX activities.

Reasoning behind the change

Hastings acknowledged that shortening Orientation will “save resources” for MIT. However, he identified the recommendations of the 2006 Task Force on the Educational Commons Subcommittee as the main catalyst behind the proposed reduction of Orientation.

In its final report, the task force recommended that “the Chancellor should convene a faculty committee to examine first-year orientation and ensure a more equal balance among student life, academics, and research. As part of this effort, consideration should be given to the impact of the new pre-orientation first-year programs and how they contribute to the important intellectual goals of first-year orientation.”

In the 2008 Educational Commons Subcommittee Final Report, there was no mention of reviewing, improving, or changing orientation. The Institute-Wide Planning Task Force’s Final Report also did not recommend shortening Orientation.

Norman said the decision to shorten Orientation was based on a multitude of reasons, including recommendations from the Task Force on the Educational Commons Subcommittee and the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force.

In response to the Institute budget cuts, the DUE formed the Working Group on First Year Programs, which recommended the reduction of Orientation by three days. Hastings said this idea was “concurrent” with the ideas presented by the task force.

“Given we already have the longest orientation period among our peers (including the pre-orientation programs), it made most sense to look at reducing the total amount of time,” Hastings said.

Students stress importance of REX

On Jan. 15, Modi, UA Vice President Sammi G. Wyman ’11, Norman, and Associate Dean of the UAAP Elizabeth C. Young met to discuss how to present the proposal to MIT students.

“We jointly decided that a special meeting of the Senate would be a good way to understand the changes and would provide a structure for giving feedback,” Modi said to The Tech.

He praised Norman for being candid about the issue. “It’s good having someone who is so up-front,” Modi said.

Norman acknowledged that students are upset about the changes, but added, “We have their [students] best interest in mind.”

Johnson met briefly with Norman on Monday, Jan. 24. According to Johnson, Norman said that the events and purpose of REX would remain untouched. At that time Johnson did not think major changes could happen to REX.

Johnson showed concern over the possibility of REX being shortened. “Choosing a dorm is one of the most important decisions students will make during their four years here since it affects them both academically and socially,” Johnson said.

Norman also believes that REX is an important asset to Orientation. “Freshman need to find a community where they feel they belong,” Norman said.

In the past, Johnson acted as a REX chair and was able to see first-hand how greatly the event impacted students. “[REX is] a great opportunity to learn about the cultures instead of relying on the stereotypes,” Johnson said.

Alexander A. Penn ’12, incoming president of Burton Conner, also expressed concern over REX being shortened. “Twenty-four hours isn’t enough time to get to know people and figure out if you want to live with them for the next four years.”

Penn believes that REX is an essential part of choosing a residence because it allows freshmen to meet upperclassmen in the dorms. “It is hard to get to know a dorm through i3 videos and pamphlets.”

Last year, 1,068 freshmen participated in REX. About 250, or 23.4 percent, of those freshmen entered the readjustment lottery, and approximately 50 percent of those who entered the lottery moved to a new dorm.

This past REX, more than 250 events were registered for REX. From Saturday to Monday on that weekend, approximately 58 events were held each day.