Thursday, January 27, 2011

Orientation: Proposed Changes, 2011

The latest furor (although it doesn't seem to be as viral as dining reform) among the East Campus troublemakers' faction (not actually, though sometimes I wonder if that's what MIT administration thinks of us, especially after reading Dean Julie Norman's comments) is over proposed changes to Orientation, namely, shortening it.

My conclusion: Dean Julie Norman, on behalf of the Chancellor, agrees that Orientation should help students feel like part of a greater MIT class / community, and values that over having REX events (although she still values living group informed decisions because sad people do poorly academically), while East Campus (Fred/S.Haus/Rand) students and the West Campus students I know strongly value living group communities (regardless of class year). Also, there is a window of a few weeks to effect changes.
[Edit 29 Jan] Jackie, a putz alum, brings up an interesting point, we might be able to tell if this is actually the case (as opposed to worries that frosh are tired when they start classes) by asking if they might approve of randomized housing or freshman-specific housing.
And Brian comments that Dean Norman didn't sound defensive about shortening REX, almost like the administration believes they are making an improvement with little downside.
BTW, REX is very roughly analogous to Rush, but for MIT dorms. All MIT freshman must live on campus their first semester. [/edit]

As a peacemaker, I would like to point to Dean Norman's closing statement:
“I think we all share the same values — we want to welcome students, and have them be ready to find the right residence or community for them.”
[Edit 29 Jan] Also, speculation and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is terrible, I should keep my fingers crossed that Chancellor Clay will come out with a reasonable explanation for this (which may be entirely unrelated to dorm culture). [/edit]

Some highlights in bold (from the draft UA [Undergraduate Association] minutes):
[Edit 29 Jan] 1 page summary available. Also, final version of minutes will be released 7 Feb, [/edit]
(and please view my snarky comments in light of the fact that these people didn't have time to sit in front of a computer and craft what they were going to say)

Tim J: Concerning the Chancellor’s charge, when he approached the UAAP and asked to revisit Orientation with the idea of making it shorter, were there any comment about budgets or costs coming from the Orientation, coming from the Chancellor?

Norman: No, it’s not motivated solely by resources. Let me be honest. In my budget, I will save no money. The greatest expense is feeding freshmen, and we’re still feeding freshmen. We will not save  money in that sense. If we look at the resources of all of these stakeholders, all of the resources and spaces, the institute will save money. ... We’re sort of increasing the efficiency of all of our resources

James: James, East Campus. So, earlier, when we asked if money is a big issue, you said no – just overall. So, if money isn’t the main motivation, what is the main motivation?

Norman: It’s a problem in that, we see students losing their energy and participation. Faculty are concerned that, by the time they arrive at class, they’re worn out. The Chancellor has asked us to step back and say what is essential and critical.

James: So, it’s a student health thing,
Norman: It’s health and other student related matters
Pranjal: freshman, East Campus: We didn’t get burned out because it was too long. Rather it was more  because it wasn’t long enough. In such a short amount of time, we had to do my FPOP, 12 dorms, and so and so forth.

Norman: That’s the fundamental question of what is it you must do to find the right activities vs. what are some of the activities that are not relevant

Will: What would you consider then, a failure? What are you trying to avoid?

pg8 Norman: Those values that we put up there are what we believe should be in Orientation, that has not changed from past Orientation. What would I view as a failure? I think someone that has taken advantage of touring the dorm, someone that doesn’t feel like their part of the class and to the community, etc. I see that person as someone that is lost on Day 1.

(lolwut? You don't build a community of 10,000 people, you build communities of ~150 (says gladwell) and link them together...)

Paula: Paula, senior. I was rush chair this past year. As far as CPW goes, and student opinions, there is talk at Senior House every year about how we shouldn’t even participate because we’re just being the work horse of the institute. They’re  just going to come here because they think we’re cool not because the institute is cool.

lol senior haus  :)

Norman: I’ve said to you before, I want these freshmen to be living in the right place. They need to be at home. If they’re not, they’re not going to be good academically.

Well, if we're not at home, i think poor academics are a symptom, and mental sad faces are the actual consequence.

Donald: Donald Guy. The question is if the institute considers housing options as a priority.
(question wasn't ever really answered)

Anonymous: How set in stone is this schedule? Will we have time to make decisions, or is this futile?

Norman: I will not say it’s futile. I think we need to step back now and see what are our foundational things are. The feedback from your representatives, UA, DormCon, etc. will be helpful. It can’t be next April or May; it has to be the next couple of weeks.

Very interesting:
Mission Statement:
The mission of the MIT Orientation program is to assist new students in their transition to MIT by providing programs and services which outline the Institute’s academic requirements as well as social/developmental opportunities and to welcome students to the MIT community, introducing them to each other, upper-class students, staff, and faculty.
Essential to Orientation:
• Academic exposure and knowledge in preparation for registration
• Ability to navigate MIT
Class identity and a sense of overall community
(no mention of living group identity)

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