MIT’s motto is mens et manus. Nowhere else is this more visible than on the East side. You know this because you use the videos of the murals, kitchens, wood-working, electronics projects, and hacks to advertise the undergraduate program; you blog and tweet about it. This is inspiring to kids because it shows that you can dare to take a dream and build it. An amazing, inspiring, organic marketing campaign that costs nothing (in fact it makes money, considering that the students pay to be there).
Online education is changing the nature of higher education, and you will have to think very carefully about what students are getting out of the in-person MIT experience. The reason any one of us supports MIT (with our money, good words, or children) is not because of the course catalog but because of the environment that encouraged and amplified our creativity and confidence. If you don’t foster this in Cambridge MA, it will happen somewhere else and attract the hearts and minds and hands of kids who want to build their dreams. I know of initiatives at other top tech schools that are desperately trying to recreate the East side experience. Are we going backwards?
The past and proposed changes that we have heard about will erode our culture. The dorms are a little less hands-on, a little less exciting. You should be alarmed that there has only been one roller coaster in the past four years. How can MIT maintain its reputation and continue to attract creative students? These long term consequences are very much connected to silly issues about security cameras and murals. It’s your job to understand why.