Vest Will Discuss Dean CandidatesBy Daniel C. Stevenson
and Shang-Lin Chuang
The dean search committee will meet next week with President Charles M. Vest to discuss plans to replace outgoing Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith.
Vest will make the final decision on the new dean and the structure of the Dean's Office, according to the committee's chair Professor Linn W. Hobbs. The office could be divided into separate sections for undergraduate education and student affairs.
Smith announced last year that he will step down this summer.
"Naturally, from the outside, the two jobs look really independent, but oftentimes, the structure of an office will change depending on the temperament of the officer," said Harriet Ritvo, associate dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and member of the search committee.
The committee, established by Provost Mark S. Wrighton, collected student input through a series of forums in living groups and also interviewed several people who work closely with the Dean's Office, Hobbs said.
Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe, Professor of Ocean Engineering J. Kim Vandiver PhD '75, and Associate Dean of the School of Engineering John B. Vander Sande are rumored to be candidates for a dean for undergraduate education position.
Potential candidates declined to speculate on what they might do as dean, but offered their opinions on undergraduate life, teaching, and freshman year programs.
Concerned with freshman year
"I've always taken a very personal interest in my students," said Vandiver, who confirmed he was on a short list of candidates. Vandiver was a former teaching assistant for the late Institute Professor Harold E. "Doc" Edgerton ScD '27 and in 1992 created the Edgerton Center, a hands-on education center with special programs for freshmen.
The center's programs allow students "to engage in real things dealing with their profession" as early as their freshman year, said Vandiver, a self-proclaimed advocate of active education.
Vandiver served as director of the Experimental Studies Group from 1984 to 1989. His experience with ESG gave him an "unusual opportunity to see how creative students can be about their own education," he said.
One of his guiding educational philosophies is "the recognition that students as individuals have many different preferred learning styles," Vandiver said. "Any school has to be able to dispense education in a diverse set of ways so students with different styles of learning can excel."
Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Travis R. Merritt, who also interviewed for the dean position, echoed concerns about the freshman year.
MIT should be "doing some things to enlighten" the freshman year and "make it more interactive," Merritt said. The new dean will have to address everything dealing with first-year education, he said.
"Any dean has to have a lively agenda, a sense of mission, and adequate support," Merritt said.
Jaffe puts academics first
"As chair of the faculty, I have been concerned about student life, education programs, teaching, and undergraduate issues for my entire career at MIT," Jaffe said.
Jaffe, the first co-recipient of the School of Science teaching prize and the Graduate Student Council teaching prize, acknowledged "a reputation for being a concerned and sympathetic teacher."
"My heart really lies in the academic and education enterprise in MIT. As chair of faculty I work hard to keep academics as the top priority on the agenda," Jaffe said.
Jaffe was involved with the resolution of last year's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program funding crisis. Working with Smith and others, Jaffe "brought the problem to the attention of the administration, helped to get the employee benefit calculated which improved [UROP's financial standing], and encouraged departments to take interest in their UROPs," he said.
"I think Professor Jaffe really knows where students are coming from," said former Undergraduate Association President Vijay P. Sankaran '95. "He is good in terms of listening to concerns that students have about things that are going on around campus."
Vander Sande, professor of materials science and engineering, could not be reached for comment. According to Professor Thomas W. Eagar '72, head of the department, Vander Sande has "always been an excellent teacher" and "shown an interest in undergraduate education."
While in Course III, Vander Sande helped implement the current undergraduate curriculum, which has been modeled around the country, Eagar said. He was also part of an National Science Foundation initiative to improve undergraduate engineering education at several schools.
Vander Sande, who joined the faculty in 1971, was named associate dean in 1992. He has served on the School of Engineering's education committee.