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UESA Dean's Office Should be Divided

Column by Raajnish A. Chitaley, Hans C. Godfrey, J. Paul Kirby, and Stacy E. McGeever

We urge President Charles M. Vest and Provost Joel Moses to divide the Office of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs by appointing a Dean for Undergraduate Education (DUE), reporting to the Provost, and a Dean for Student Affairs (DSA), reporting to the DUE. Further, as relevant personalities consider whom to appoint as Dean for Student Affairs, we would like to bring attention to someone with whom too many students and faculty are too unfamiliar, yet who is very influential in student affairs: Stephen D. Immerman, director of special services for the senior vice president.

A divided Dean's Office?

A community which is nervous about MIT's real attitude toward student affairs would understandably worry that a DSA subordinate to a DUE might mean MIT is seizing an opportunity to demote the importance of the out-of-classroom experience.

We believe the true test lies instead in how effectively the DSA is supervised, advised, and informally guided by what is the true arbiter of the undergraduate experience: the faculty.

The provost is a very busy person from whom many people need supervision and guidance. A dean can usually get the provost's attention easily enough, but keeping focused attention for very long can be much more difficult. If the DSA reports to the provost, it thus seems wise both that the DSA be a member of the faculty and that he or she have impressive understanding of the faculty's interests to compensate for the lack of persistent Provostial guidance.

But a DUE, who will surely be a member of the faculty, would have a much more vital link to the DSA. Residing perhaps in the same office area, the two would regularly communicate and coordinate; the interests of the faculty would have a comfortable, focused conduit into the student affairs structure, and vice versa.

Thus, this arrangement could just as well mean that MIT believes student affairs should occupy a more critical place - by keeping the DSA vitally connected to the academic sector of MIT rather than creating what one finds at so many other schools, a "Vice President for Student Affairs" whose peer areas are physical plant, payroll accounting, alumni fundraising, and the like.

Immerman and re-engineering

Whether the next DSA or not, Immerman has already been given an instrumental job in the re-engineering of student services - including all of student affairs to be sure, but also such areas as the Bursar's Office, the Student Financial Aid Office, and Housing and Food Services. Re-engineering will almost certainly be dramatic and substantial, and strongly determine the course of student affairs for many decades. But re-engineering is only now beginning and may not conclude for many years; a DSA will be chosen very soon, perhaps within a few weeks. The DSA can either be a consonant force in MIT's re-engineering, or a dissonant one - we obviously prefer the former.

Talents and achievements

How does one confidently describe what Immerman is all about? He seems to operate with committment to definable, articulable agendas designed to implement definable, articulable goals or outcomes; he is marked by the relentless tenacity to build consensus around those agendas, goals, and outcomes. His last five or six years working as director of special services put him in successful charge of many projects involving many millions of dollars in different areas of MIT, leaving him with an extensive collection of connections at all levels of MIT. He has an amazing interpretative command of MIT's history and the context of many of its most critical decisions, and can work in situations requiring high public visibility or quiet, private negotiation.

Perhaps his most recognizable accomplishment to students occurred well before he was director of special services: the redesign of the student center. Before 1985 or so, the student center was largely a building of contradictions: for instance, it was a formally arranged building which students used informally; it contained commercial organziations yet was a financial burden to MIT. Immerman redesigned the entire concept of the student center and directed the renovation, leaving the building we see today, and particularly the first floor, much better organized for the needs of students as well as the rest of the community.

Student affairs

What might he do as dean for student affairs? We are fairly confident he would build consensus with the faculty, students, and student affairs staff on definable, articulable goals for what students as individuals should get out of the nonacademic experience; then relentlessly and efficiently pursue those goals. We would not be surprised to see a printed curriculum for the nonacademic experience. It need not be his personal opinion of what the curriculum should be; it will be the community's, and if it just so happens that the community's opinion turns out to closely resemble what his was in the first place, it wouldn't be the first time - but this goes to his skills as a consensus builder, not his bedtime reading of Machiavelli. This coherence of method, focus on ultimate goals, and litany of accomplishment would be the most obvious marks he would leave as dean.

Immerman's principal handicap as DSA is apparent: he is not a member of the MIT faculty. But the importance of the DSA coming from the faculty diminishes substantially if the DSA reports to the DUE, for reasons we have described earlier.

Second, he has for the past five or six years been the right hand man of Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56, who reports directly to Vest. The case could be made that anyone acting with the imprimatur of the senior vice president would of course get a great deal accomplished, command respect, and so forth, and that this need not at all translate into confidence that he or she could successfully manage a large, diverse staff without such an imprimatur. We believe this misses the point not only of what Immerman accomplished before he worked for Dickson, but ignores entirely that while director of special services he has also been the formal supervisor of Graphic Arts and the Campus Activities Complex - for which he, not Dickson, is primarily responsible. And it completely misses why he was fit for Dickson's imprimatur in the first place.

Third, Immerman has a great deal of ambition and drive. The case could also be made that he may have ambition, good ideas, and even the right ideas, but if appointed as DSA would be quickly stymied by the bureaucratic student affairs staff, and either burn out quickly and quit, or worse: burn out slowly and stay. But even leaving his record of accomplishments aside, this concern is also misplaced. He is ambitious about what can be accomplished in student affairs and he is anything but naive, seldom being mistaken about what he cannot accomplish. Finally, the student affairs staff, nearly without exception, do not suffer from bureaucratic stubbornness; most are good people trying to get good things done. Managing the diversity of goals within the Dean's Office is a challenge, but one to which Immerman is arguably well-suited. He started out at MIT in the Dean's Office in 1979 and was an assistant dean from 198284, so the ways of the Dean's Office are not foreign to him.

In summary, we think Immerman's talents, accomplishments, and potential handicaps merit attention from faculty, students, and those choosing the next DSA, since he will be instrumental in student services re-engineering, since he is an respectable candidate for DSA, and because of his current role in student affairs - informal and with great influence.

Raajnish A. Chitaley '95 has served as Undergraduate Association Treasurer; Hans C. Godfrey '93 as UA President; J. Paul Kirby '92 as UA Vice President; Stacy E. McGeever '93 as UA President. They offer their sincere congratulations to Professor Joel Moses for accepting, for the sake of MIT, the demotion from dean of the School of Engineering to provost.