UESA, MIT Need Another Smith
The imminent resignation of Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith will be greatly felt by the entire MIT community, particularly students. His intimate understanding of MIT and his unflinching faith in the abilities - both good and bad - of MIT students, together built an unspoken bond of trust between students and the Institute.
In Smith's own words, he was never one to "manage" students; rather, his philosophy centered around the belief that MIT students should take responsibility for their own lives and actions, that education from a "skinned knee" was preferable to being walked by the hand. A more noble philosophy of student affairs is difficult to imagine.
As much as his own philosophy centered around students, Smith was able to successfully manage a staff with a variety of professional backgrounds and diverging personal philosophies. Chief among his accomplishments was the successful merger of the Undergraduate Education and the Student Affairs offices into something of a coherent whole. The achievement is particularly notable in an era of tightening budgets and changing administrative priorities.
MIT is now challenged with finding another leader for an organization whose administrative reach extends from Residence and Orientation Week through Commencement. MIT will likely not undertake a search so important to undergraduate life until the selection of the next President. The provost, with a soon-to-be-appointed advisory group, will face the daunting task of finding an individual with the character and vision to set the direction of undergraduate life at the Institute for years to come.
Of particular concern is the current merger of the undergraduate education and student affairs organizations. As a universally well-regarded member of the faculty, Smith was uniquely suited to fill the position of dean for both entities. Whether MIT can enlist someone of that caliber to encompass such a broad spectrum of responsibilities remains to be seen. In the appointment of the new dean, the future of the joint Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Office should be carefully considered.
In the final analysis, MIT students should not expect a new dean for undergraduate education and student affairs to be another Art Smith. We can only hope for someone who shares his philosophy and can strive to meet his high standard of leadership and admirable commitment to students.