The Abject Failure of the MIT Administration

2017 will certainly be remembered for a startling abundance of variously disconcerting change. Would that this change had confined itself to the pages of the Fake News, rather than the real and meaningful news students at MIT live every day. Unfortunately, years of failed attempts to triage the relationship between Senior House, MIT’s oldest dormitory, and the MIT Administration have finally led to a climax simultaneously inevitable and unthinkable: the cultural death sentence. Current residents will be summarily evicted and privileged with the rare honor of reapplying for admission to their own home. Those souls lucky enough to be graced with such benevolence will find the halls somewhat different than they left them — featuring an abundance of supervision and sterile, Institute white, for example.

While I doubt any party would seriously claim to be satisfied with this outcome, I suspect that reasonable observers will appreciate its necessity (or, failing that, at least its finality). This action on the part of the administration is so radical, extreme, and beyond the pale that it cannot even be explained by malevolence, since the costs to the institute, both political and monetary, will be so high. No, this decision, as horrible as it is, was probably the right one.

For that reason, I will not call for it to be reversed or even reconsidered.

The problem is not the decision of the administration. The problem is that such an extreme action would ever become the right decision in the first place, and there is a single reason why the Institute finds itself at this crossroads today: the utter, abject failure of the administration.

The issues and behaviors that led, both directly and indirectly, to the closure of Senior House have been decades in the making; they were not the result of any single class of students. No, this situation was not caused by bad apples, it was caused by bad farmers. Students require support, as well as independence, sometimes simultaneously. Occasionally they need to be taught lessons, and occasionally they need to be left to learn lessons. It is difficult at the best of times to understand precisely what students need and desire, but if any esteemed body on Earth has that capability, one would think it would be the exceptionally well-compensated ranks of the MIT Administration, whose job descriptions require threading those needles every day.

But usually, threading the needle is hardly necessary, because students are by their very natures so resilient. Left to their own devices, they will help themselves and others to succeed and flourish, even in the harsh environment of the Institute. It takes an awful lot to screw up an entire dorm of students, far beyond mere negligence. And yet, somehow, over the past years, that is precisely what the MIT administration has managed to do, to the extreme detriment of the poor souls who had the misfortune to be residents in 2017.

Too little, too late, the administration realized their failure, and hastily launched a “turnaround team” to solve the problem. That bears repeating: the administration of one of the most elite universities on the planet assembled a select task force to solve a problem — and they, too, failed. Utterly, in fact. They failed so spectacularly that the only remaining option was the nuclear one. On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate the decision to cut our losses — but remind me, why did we have losses in the first place?

The funerary bell has already rung for Senior House, and not even MIT can un-ring a bell. But as we stand today, for better or worse, I have a single demand: I demand that the MIT Administration take immediate and unconditional responsibility for their abject failure to resolve the issues surrounding Senior House. I do not ask for a reconsideration of their decision, or even any commitments of money or policy. There will be time enough in the coming months and years for commitments to be made, but for now something much simpler will suffice. The MIT Administration owes every member of the MIT community, past, present, and future a prompt, public and profuse apology for the students that they could not help and the culture that they could not save. Perhaps the individual agents responsible for those failures have been dismissed already; if so, I expect their current and presumably more qualified successors to bear this responsibility in their stead. Until MIT has seen fit to make this small gesture of integrity, I cannot in good conscience continue to support it as an institution, monetarily or otherwise, and would hope other alumni and present students would feel likewise.

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