Response to Changes to REX 1/30/2011
Dean Young and Director Norman,
I have been following the proposed changes to REX. Although I was unable to attend the UA Senate Meeting due to a class, I have read the draft minutes online. I strongly disagree with your proposed changes in orientation.
First off, I am unconvinced why there needs to be any change in orientation. You state that the motivation is not financial. Instead, you state that the faculty believes that freshmen are too tired when classes begins. However, REX is a full week before classes begin. More immediately adjacent to the start of class is Rush. If you were truly concerned about freshmen being tired, you would look instead at Rush. In particular, Rush is in full swing the day before classes start; and some events even occur during the first week of classes. However, you have not proposed any changes to Rush. While I do not believe that Rush should be changed; I do not see how these facts support your argument that this is about freshmen being tired. I personally find it doubtful that freshmen are tired when classes start, and that it is a significant issue. From reading online discussions, it seems that many students do not believe this is the “real” reason that REX is being adjusted.
Second, you have proposed lengthened some FPOPs. Currently some FPOPs are only 2 days because that is their natural length. Under the proposed plan, those FPOPs would be forced to stretch out their material beyond what is needed. I do not see any reason in this, beside the convenience of the housing personnel. It also is diametrically opposed to your argument that a shorter orientation would preserve student energy.
Third, by compressing the schedule you are increasing student stress. Imagine that you had to get 3 days of work done in one day. It is highly stressful, and thus more tiring. You are suggesting compressing 3 days of REX into one 24 hour period. In addition, by moving ASEs to one day you are increasing the level of stress and undercutting performance by requiring students to take multiple tests in one day. Although I did not attempt any ASEs, I know how stressful it is to have 2 finals on one day. Having one exam per day allows one to study for it the night before. When I have two exams the next day I am always stressing how to split my time.
Fourth, I am concerned by your suggestion that students learn about the dorms from CPW and i3 videos. Under the current system, there is an advantage for students to have an idea of where they want to live after CPW and viewing i3 videos when they enter the Summer Housing Lottery. Getting into their preferred dorm prevents students from having to move between buildings and gives them a right of refusal in that building in the adjustment lotto. In addition, if a student is unsuccessful into getting into their CPW/i3 preferred dorm then they have another chance in the readjustment lottery. Given that there is an advantage to make your mind up early, we can assume that students use CPW and i3 to guide their decision making for the summer lottery. However, if, as you suggest, CPW and i3 are sufficient to allow students to select a dorm, then students should NOT wish to enter the readjustment lottery. However, every year ~30-35% of students enter the readjustment lottery. The conclusion that one can draw from this is that ~30-35% students find the REX process helpful, because CPW and i3 were not sufficient.
One could argue that some percentage of the students entering the lottery are merely trying to “try again” to get to their summer first pick. However, in 2009, 64% of freshmen got their first pick, 31% second; 5% third pick, so he effect should be small. Detailed data on who entered the lottery (people who did not get their first pick, etc) is not presently available. In addition, it would be interesting to see if dorms get a different proportion/share of the vote in the summer and readjustment lotteries. Hopefully this data could be made available to assist the conversation.
Fifth, I feel that i3 videos are a very poor window into what a dorm is like. It is basically an advertisement. I know that is true at my dorm, Baker, since I helped make the video. Just like those numerous TV shows where students never seem to go to class, Baker’s video portrays Baker as a constant party. Actually living here is very different. Now, I believe that our video was successful in attracting people. In 2009, ~300 prefrosh listed as their first choice Summer pick, whereas ~400 prefrosh did in 2010. However, despite Baker being the hardest dorm to get into, some students did not find a home here. A full 10% of the freshmen who beat the odds and made it into Baker found that Baker was not a good home for them. This reaffirms that the i3 video is not a substitute for REX.
Sixth, I believe that housing is a critical support system to the academic demands of MIT. MIT is fairly unique in that it offers students a wide range of options for students to find a home. Once the semester begins, that home forms a support system which helps freshmen adjust to being in college and the work load of MIT. If students do not feel at home, then it is harder for students to adapt to the stresses of MIT. With a substantially cut REX, that 30-35% of students who do not feel at home would have far less time to find a better home for themselves at MIT.
Lastly, while I think providing activities during the evenings of FPOPs might be a good idea, not everyone participates in an on-campus FPOP. Students on off-campus FPOPs would be “missing things” while off campus, while students not granted entry into an FPOP would be denied participation in these activities. For the reasons above, I believe that everyone should be able to participate in REX, not just the 70-80% of freshmen who participate in on campus FPOPs.
Thank you. I would be willing to answer any questions you might have.
-Michael Plasmeier VPFS Baker House