Opinion staff column

MIT must bear the same burdens it is placing on its students

If students are forced to return from abroad, MIT can’t cancel summer programs and housing

A month ago, on March 9, I was invited, along with other students involved with international student advocacy, to attend a meeting with Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz and staff from his office to discuss the remote appointment policies for the summer and the fall. The proposal — by now published — was clear: MIT wants to gradually return to life as normal by the start of the fall. This involves reducing the number of students residing abroad on MIT appointments (assistantships and fellowships) to effectively zero by September.

We, the students present at the meeting, let them know our concerns about the effects of such a policy, including the fact that many of the countries where students are currently residing will not reach herd immunity by the summer — unlike the U.S., which is predicted to have all of its (willing) adults vaccinated by May — so traveling for them would mean potentially becoming infected. The final version of the policy includes a limited exception process for students who are prevented from entering the U.S. and those with medical conditions that make travel to the U.S. high risk. This is more restrictive than we would have wanted but by this point, we realized that MIT, like everyone else, wants to be back to normal as soon as feasible.

Then on Wednesday, April 7, the MIT community received a different email regarding Institute policies for the summer. In it, we were told that MIT would take a very conservative approach and the summer would look very similar to the spring. Undergraduates will not be allowed to stay on campus or in FSILGs unless approved through SHARP, and most in-person summer programming (mostly for K-12 students) would be canceled.

These policy changes represent a complete U-turn from where MIT (and the rest of Massachusetts and the U.S.) has been heading. Why is it safe for several thousand undergraduates to stay on campus now, but not over the summer, when vaccination rates will be higher? Why are K-12 students more dangerous to MIT than to their own school districts, many of which are planning to reopen by the end of spring? We already know the devastating effects of virtual schooling on both the educational advancement and the mental health of children, so why are we denying them these opportunities?

What are undergraduates, who normally rely on MIT’s summer housing to stay here and e.g. engage in UROPs, supposed to do in one of the most expensive cities in the world, a month and a half before the start of the summer? Why is MIT stripping FSILGs of their summer income again, which is usually how they can make up for, in effect, subsidizing student housing during the academic year?

Beyond these rather obvious questions, another one presents itself, in light of the summer appointments policy: why is MIT optimistic when it helps its bottom line but conservative when it comes to student needs? It seems rather hypocritical that in one policy, the administration talks about how important it is for students to understand that we need to ramp up campus and research operations over the summer and go back to normal because things are going to get better real soon, while in another one, it says that students need to be kicked off campus when the semester ends — again.

Not cool MIT, not cool.