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Dean Smith to Step Down in Spring '95

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

After serving as dean for undergraduate education and student affairs for five years, Arthur C. Smith will resign at the end of the current academic year.

The resignation was announced yesterday.

"I will miss the opportunity to do things with and for students," said Smith, who turned 65 last week.

Smith saw "a change in the way the Institute views its students" as his most significant contribution as dean, he said in an interview yesterday. The change is a hard one to quantify, but nonetheless important, he said.

Administrators, faculty members, and students commend Smith for being a student advocate.

While Smith served as a faculty member and administrator, he "was also concerned about issues important to students," said J. Paul Kirby '92, former Undergraduate Association vice president. "He brought fairness, circumspection, understanding, and generosity to students," Kirby said.

Smith "has been a very strong force on behalf of students" and has had many important ideas about how to improve the undergraduate environment, said Professor of Architecture William L. Porter PhD '69, housemaster at Burton-Conner House. "He has a real sense of the spirit of the undergraduate."

"Art has brought a very insightful and effective advocacy on behalf of students to the Academic Council discussions," said President Charles M. Vest. "He always forced us to see things through the students' eyes."

Smith joined the faculty of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1959. He chaired several faculty committees involved with student affairs and academic policy, before being named Dean for Student Affairs in 1990.

Despite being involved in many projects, "successful management means nobody knows what you've done and you don't get any recognition," Smith said.

One of Smith's major goals as dean was to give students more independence and freedom of choice, Smith said. "I wanted to put more emphasis on letting students have responsibility for their decisions," he said.

The objective was to "give students all the authority and independence possible," Smith said. "It's better to give them the opportunity to make choices than to make the choices for them."

One example of this independence is MIT's housing system, Smith said. The housing lottery allows students "to start out at MIT with the feeling that they are now in a position to be making the choices," he said.

In a speech last August to the Class of 1997, Smith described his job as "to make this a place where it is more likely you will succeed, to try to help you where we can to overcome those things that get in your way, and to try to create an environment within which you can work, study, play, and learn and become what you want to be."

Integrated offices

Smith became acting dean of student affairs in July 1990, following the resignation of Shirley M. McBay. One year later he was appointed to a two-year term at that position.

The 1992 death of Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, the Institute's first dean for undergraduate education, left a void that was filled by merging the responsibilities for undergraduate education and student affairs into a single dean's office.

"Bringing about the integration of the office following Dean MacVicar's death was a major accomplishment," Vest said.

"Art used his wisdom and his patience and his creative energy to put them together under one roof and sort out a lot of problems," said Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe, chair of the faculty.

The areas of responsibility of the combined offices include residence and campus activities, student activities, freshman advising, and the Office of Minority Education, Smith said.

The office also works with the house masters and graduate residence tutors, the "better teaching at MIT" program, student counseling, and several Institute committees, Smith said.

Smith's office is largely responsible for Residence and Orientation Week and the Independent Activities Period, Smith said.

"The best thing is when you see an opportunity to help two sets of people trying to achieve similar goals" and you can bring them together and provide the necessary support to help them achieve something greater, Smith said.

"The Institute's faculty and students have been extremely well-served by an extraordinary leader who has developed an exceptional team committed to building synergy between aspects of student life and the more formal aspects of undergraduate education," said Provost Mark S. Wrighton.

Career by accident

Smith received a BS in physics from the University of Kansas in 1951 and an MA in physics from Harvard University in 1954. In 1958, he received a PhD in applied physics from Harvard, and came to MIT as a professor electrical engineering the following year.

"I never thought I'd stay in Cambridge for more than a year or at MIT for more than three years," Smith said. However, "things kept dropping onto me," and he remained at the Institute for 35 years, he said.

Smith was chairman of the faculty from 1983-85 and received the Gordon Y. Billard Award for distinguished service to the Institute in 1987. He has been named an honorary member of the Alumni Association. Since the early 1970s, Smith has chaired the Committee on Academic Performance, the Committee on Privacy, the Committee on Student Affairs, and the Committee on Educational Policy.

After his resignation, Smith hopes to be able to continue to "influence in some way the course of the Institute." One possibility is a faculty position in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, he said.

"I will probably still bake cookies for the women's volleyball team," Smith said. Smith is also considering joining the Peace Corps but "maybe I'll try that when I'm 70," he said.

Committee to be formed

As for a replacement, "like most people, I think a clone would be ideal," Smith said. His replacement should have "the goal of supporting students rather than managing students," he said.

Wrighton said he will name an advisory group to assist in selecting a replacement for Smith. The advisory group, which will include faculty, students, and staff, is expected to be working by mid-October, Wrighton said.

"At this point we anticipate that we will continue to integrate undergraduate education and student affairs into one office," Vest said.

That integration "defines the most unique characteristic that we will be looking for in a new dean," Vest said. "That is the ability to bridge the gap between the students' academic life and the broader set of services we must provide and experiences that students have."

"Another rare individual has to be found or the position has to be restructured" to divide the responsibilities, Kirby said.

Vest and Wrighton "remain committed to strong faculty-student links in undergraduate education and student life, building on the foundation that Dean Smith has laid down," Wrighton said.