Summer recap

RLADs, new edX partner, Institute files amicus brief

As you enjoy your burrito from the new Chipotle that opened up in Kendall this June, you may wonder what else has changed on campus over the summer. Here’s a summary of some of the topics The Tech has covered to get you up to speed.

New RLAD position stirs controversy and debate

This fall, many dormitories will see new faces in their house teams in the form of Residential Life Area Directors (RLADs). RLADs will live in the dorms and assist housemasters and Graduate Resident Tutors (GRTs) with administrative and operational tasks. These changes were revealed June 2, when an anonymous source leaked a letter, written by Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 to MIT housemasters, which spoke of imminent changes in residential life. The information caught many students and GRTs off-guard, sparking campuswide controversy and debate.

After the letter was leaked, the administration continued to move forward with the implementation of the RLAD system.

“It was not our intent to roll out the position the way we did,” said Henry J. Humphreys, dean of residential life and dining. “Once we decided to go forward, we needed to move quickly, as the window for hiring officials for the position in the summer is small.”

The official RLAD job description was released July 23, and stated that the responsibilities of the RLADs would include working to promote a sense of community and belonging, following up with residents on “medical, psychological, and personal issues,” providing updates to house teams and the Department of Student Life, and “support[ing] the housemasters in their roles as the supervisors of the GRTs.”

On-campus interviews for the RLAD positions began mid-July, and by early August five candidates were hired to serve in MacGregor Hall, McCormick Hall, New House, Next House, and Simmons Hall. Two others from Burton-Conner House and Maseeh Hall were promoted from their previous position of Residential Life Associate (RLA), a role that was phased out at the end of the previous academic year as part of the RLAD implementation. Last week, however, The Tech learned that the former MacGregor RLAD is no longer employed by MIT. Humphreys said that he hopes to find a new person for the position as quickly as possible.

The RLADs will be living in the dorms in apartment spaces previously dedicated to RLAs. In dorms where these spaces do not exist, notably in MacGregor and New House, renovations are being made to consolidate rooms to make these apartment spaces. The construction of these apartments does not displace any students. Humphreys said that work on the New House space has already started, while the location for the MacGregor RLAD apartment has yet to be finalized.

According to Humphreys, the housemasters of the remaining dormitories — Baker House, Bexley House, East Campus, Random Hall, and Senior House — will meet with their respective communities about their RLADs in the early fall.

Berkeley joins edX

On July 24, University of California, Berkeley joined edX — the online education venture started by MIT and Harvard University — and will offer two online classes this fall, adding to the five existing classes already on edX. In total, edX will contain seven classes this fall, including BerkeleyX courses “Software as a Service” and “Artificial Intelligence.”

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau of Berkeley — also former dean of science at MIT — said that many people at the institution, from senior leadership members to faculty, have been thinking about internet education for the last couple of years. “When Rafael announced MITx and the edX partnership with Harvard, we looked at their mission statement and we got very excited about edX,” said Birgeneau, referring to MIT’s President L. Rafael Reif. “I called up Rafael and ended up having a conversation with him about Berkeley joining them, since their vision for online education was consonant with ours.”

Both MIT and Berkeley leaders have said that the development of massive open online courses will not only help spread education globally, but will also enhance on-campus education at universities. MIT Chancellor Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 said the Institute plans to engage in a variety of experiments to improve on-campus education, ranging from “flipped classrooms” ­­— in which teachers guide interactive activities in class while students are instructed by online videos outside of class — to online “immediate student assessment and feedback” and discussion groups.

As the founding universities of edX, MIT and Harvard both contributed $30 million toward the project. At this time, Berkeley will not be matching this contribution, but will lead the to-be-formed “X Universities” consortium.

Courses offered in the fall include 6.002x Circuits and Electronics (MITx) and PH207x Health in Numbers (HarvardX). 6.002x was a pilot course launched by MITx in December 2011, with over 150,000 people registered worldwide for the initial offering.

Mass. Ave. construction on hiatus

Thailand Cafe and All Asia may be here to stay for a while. On Aug. 6, Cambridge City Council chose not to take action on the zoning petition which would approve construction of a new life sciences building for Millennium Pharmaceuticals at 300 Massachusetts Avenue, displacing the two venues. The building would occupy the block immediately north of Random Hall, directly in front of Star Market. Forest City and MIT, the developers of University Park (the area in which the building would lie) are expected to refile the petition in September. It will not be voted on again until October or November. Cambridge residents had previously opposed the zoning petition approval, questioning why the building should be allowed to exceed agreed-upon height limits that were written into zoning.

For the time being, Random Hall residents can look forward to a fall semester without massive demolition on their block, but this could easily change.

Plans for Novartis park approved

Students passing by Novartis at their new campus sitting between three buildings at 181—211 Massachusetts Avenue will be able to pass through the future lush green courtyard seven days a week.

On July 17, the Cambridge Planning Board reviewed Novartis’ plans for fencing its public access courtyard at the new Novartis campus and rejected the plans due to concerns over the courtyard security, requiring Novartis to come back with a new proposal. Novartis agreed to keep the courtyard open in response to requests and feedback from the Cambridge Planning Board.

The new Novartis campus on the east side of Massachusetts Avenue will be 50 percent devoted to a public green courtyard, as a condition of the zoning petition that allows some parts of the new campus to reach 125 feet in height, as well as other miscellaneous zoning relief.

The new campus is currently under construction and is expected to be finished next year.

MIT files amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas

In mid-August, MIT and 13 peer institutions filed an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court of the United States in Fisher v. University of Texas, supporting the respondent University of Texas in the view that race could be used as one of many factors in a holistic admissions process. The brief highlighted the importance of diversity in college admissions, warning that “a decision questioning or repudiating the principles in [Grutter v. Bollinger] could significantly impair [their] ability to achieve their educational missions.”

Fisher v. University of Texas was brought before the U.S. District Court in 2008 by Abigail N. Fisher, a white applicant who claimed the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy unconstitutional after being denied admission. The district court upheld the university’s decision, citing the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School in a 5-4 vote. Fisher has since then brought her case to the Supreme Court, where it will be decided by an eight-member Court on Oct. 10, 2012. Because Justice Elena Kagan — who had previously played some role in the case as a U.S. solicitor general — withdrew from the case, according to SCOTUSblog, it is possible the Supreme Court decision could come to a 4-4 ruling, which would uphold the University of Texas’ admissions policy.

Summaries compiled by Deborah Chen and Stanley Gill