We, the GSC Officers, were first made aware of the Senior House/70 Amherst St. situation just before the decision was publicly announced. The Administration had already made the decision to convert the dorm into graduate housing before the GSC was ever consulted. The ongoing New House renovations had already used up nearly all of the flex space in the undergraduate housing system, and the previously-announced plan to move existing Senior House residents out of the building and allow them back through a rigorous application process had led to additional crowding in undergraduate buildings. The decision to remove all undergraduates from Senior House meant a further shortage of undergraduate housing, so the Administration also informed us that some 21+ juniors and seniors would be moved to graduate student dorms, though the number of students and which dorms would be impacted were still unknown.
The rapid rollout of the decision and its immediate impact on already-open housing lotteries did not allow time for productive discussion about the decision itself. However, the Administration did ask us for feedback about how these decisions would be implemented moving forward. Seeking to make the best of what we can all agree is an unfortunate and difficult situation, we involved ourselves in constant, almost daily, meetings with administrators, including the Chancellor and the Vice President for Student Life. We invested considerable time explaining graduate student concerns about proposed actions and advocating for graduate students. As such, we were successful in making the rollout better for graduate students. In particular, we addressed the following:
The Graduate Student Council (GSC) is disappointed that the MIT Administration chose not to include undergraduate or graduate students in the decision to convert the undergraduate residence Senior House into the new graduate residence 70 Amherst St. While we understand the Administration has made what they believe to be the best choice for MIT, this decision was a rapid reversal of their previous plan to address perceived issues in Senior House with new undergraduate residents and an application process for returning students. While the GSC has appreciated being involved in the implementation process after the initial decision was made, we are so far dissatisfied with the communication provided to graduate students about the decision and what it will mean for undergraduate and graduate students. It is understandable that not all our questions have answers yet, as decisions are still being made, housing allocations are still in flux, and the Division of Student Life, particularly Housing, has been inundated with additional work to support the transition. However, this does not excuse the delayed notification of all undergraduates and the so far limited information provided to graduate students. We strongly urge the Chancellor’s Office to increase their communication with students and provide updates and opportunities for students to ask questions.
While the Administration generally includes students in their decision-making processes, this is the second high-profile example in just a few months where this has not been the case. The GSC and UA were also not consulted in the decision to eliminate the Deans for Undergraduate and Graduate Education when the new Vice Chancellor role was announced. We would like to note that we have so far enjoyed working with the new Vice Chancellor on our priorities for professional development and advising. However, education for undergraduates and graduate students is different, and it is inherently challenging for one individual to balance the two. Moreover, it is our understanding that the search for a Vice Chancellor was prompted by the need to think more strategically about the future of education at MIT, an effort that was previously limited by Administration bandwidth. We strongly believe there is sufficient work to support both a Vice Chancellor and separate Deans for Undergraduate and Graduate Education, and we are disappointed that the rationale behind this decision was not adequately explained to students.
Even though we understand that sometimes decisions have to be made quickly or with some degree of confidentiality, we believe there should be increased student involvement from the earliest stages of the decision-making process. As always, the GSC will continue to interface closely with the Administration, building upon our existing collaboration and continuing to promote the interests of graduate students. We expect that more concrete information about Senior House/70 Amherst St. will be provided soon, including updates on undergraduates moving into graduate dorms. Given this temporary arrangement, it is our position that the operation of graduate residences such as community rules and support for house activities will remain unchanged, and, at the same time, we hope that the new undergraduate residents will be welcomed by the graduate community.
Finally, the high demand for rooms in 70 Amherst St. indicates the pressing need for more affordable housing for graduate students. We look forward to working with the Administration to take prompt action to address this need.