Professor of Biology, Boston College

It is a shame to think that one of the most distinctive aspects of MIT that supports the creativity of its students, i.e., the undergraduate housing system, may be heading in the direction of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle.  As a “child of Florey” (class of 1980), I participated in activities that were not necessarily permissible, but were part of growing up.  My first date with my future wife included sitting on the minor dome watching traffic move up and down Mass Ave. I became friends with the EC building manager Norm Magneson (of blessed memory), after he made me repaint the exterior of my fifth floor window frame from the optic orange I had painted it (who knew that you could only paint the interior of your room?) only later to realize that he made a student go out onto the fifth floor ledge!

The placement of cameras to constantly monitor the activities of MIT students would create an environment not unlike that of the world of The Circle, in which “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN”. This is a time for students to make some mistakes and grow from these experiences. Administrators who advocate for these policies should “go transparent” and elect to wear video cameras 24/7 to see what a bad idea this is and how it would stifle the human spirit.

Long live Jack Florey and the East Campus/Senior House lifestyle.

Charlie Hoffman

MIT’s unique academic rigor is enabled by an undergraduate residential system which is idiosyncratic to MIT, and that is good.

I was asked by some of our students to contribute my point of view to the essays being assembled in this collection. The issue at hand is so much more important to MIT’s success than most of my academic and administrative colleagues seem to understand that I feel compelled to comply with this request. In fact, I would have liked to have spent an extended effort on this essay, collecting my thoughts into a brief but compelling argument of only a few paragraphs in length. Alas, time is against me. With apologies, I have made no attempt to be brief.

I want to add my voice to that of the other writers in this collection in expressing my conviction that MIT’s undergraduate residential system is one of the core elements that contributes to our success as a school. However, I must also express agreement with those writers who point out that the residential system only contributes positively to MIT when it is operating according to certain values — like personal choice, a sense of ownership by the residents, and academic community governance — which our students seem to intuitively understand, but which are being eroded by a series of policy changes that appear to be attempting to bring MIT’s idiosyncratic system more in line with what would be more broadly recognized as modern best practices in the field of student life administration. I have no doubt that this gradual elimination of the natural support system which enabled MIT’s highly demanding academic culture in years past, together with the more recent attempts to replace it with a more managed and controllable system, are the principal causes for the escalation of student stress in unhealthy directions that we have all observed in recent years, and which has been extensively discussed in the news media both inside and out of MIT. To enable their success under the rigors of our academics, we need our students to feel like their living group at MIT is their home, not a temporary shelter owned by an organization hostile to their interests. When we take action to undermine that sense of the home, we insert new sources of stress into the community which carry no educational merit.

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