Reorganization Shows Added SensitivityStudents and faculty alike should be pleased by Provost Mark S. Wrighton's reorganization of the Academic Council. Last week's changes point to an increased sensitivity within the administration both to students' needs and to pressures being mounted from outside the Institute.
For students, the most important change is the appointment of Arthur C. Smith to the combined position of dean for undergraduate education and student affairs. Few members of the faculty or administration have proven themselves more interested in improving students' lives and increasing their voice at the Institute than Smith. Unlike many administrators -- including his predecessor, Shirley M. McBay -- Smith asks students for input before creating policies that will affect their daily lives. His progressive attitude on sex education and many other important issues facing today's students points to a bright future for student welfare over the next few years.
It is equally important that students realize what will not be accomplished through Smith's promotion. While Smith will now be in charge of both the Undergraduate Education Office and the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs, students will probably not notice any major changes in either of these two bodies. Wrighton's claim that the new position will streamline the decision-making process is largely unfounded, but such a merger certainly cannot hurt, especially when it comes to major issues such as the participation of gays in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
Though the power of the new position is an asset with Smith, it would be dangerous in the hands of anyone less interested in student welfare. Giving control of both students' educational and extracurricular life to one person requires someone responsible and sensitive enough to wield that power wisely. We can only hope that Smith's successor will be as patient and understanding as he is; if not, waiting even a year to reorganize the Academic Council, as the administration did this time, could have disastrous consequences.
The greatest victor in this reshuffle may be the current residence selection system. In having Smith report directly to Wrighton, as opposed to Associate Provost for Institute Life Samuel J. Keyser, the administration has made it easier for the majority of students, who prefer the current system, to make their views known to President Charles M. Vest and other high-ranking administrators. Although Smith reportedly would like to see all students live on west campus, this philosophy is far enough outside any foreseeable future that it should not concern students. More important is the fact that Keyser, the chief proponent of changing the residence selection process, no longer mediates between the dean for student affairs, who represents the students to the administration, and the administration itself. It is good to see Keyser, whose views on housing seem to be gaining some ground within the Undergraduate Association, put outside the direct line between students and administrators.
While the appointment of Sheila E. Widnall '60 to the post of associate provost will probably not affect most students, it represents a praiseworthy effort by the administration to focus greater attention on several long-standing issues. Widnall's two main responsibilities, tenure and government relations, have become increasingly important in the wake of former Associate Professor David F. Noble's lawsuit and audits by the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Asking a senior, well-respected faculty member to assume responsibility for such matters sends the right signal to all the involved parties.
Wrighton's reorganization of the Academic Council is a significant step forward for all members of the MIT community, especially students. We can only hope that the structural change will be as beneficial in the long run as the current appointees are in the short-term.