Bates Appointment Lacked Student Input
On Tuesday, Dean of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Rosalind H. Williams announced the appointment of Margaret R. Bates as the new dean of student life. We welcome Bates to MIT, having no doubt of her qualifications for filling the new office. We do not, however, approve of the method of her appointment. Considering that this position is focused on student life, MIT's students should have been widely consulted about the appointment. They were not.
The Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs is certainly concerned more with undergraduate life than any other administrative office or dean. Clearly, major changes in the organization of this office -- the appointment of a new dean and the split of the UESA responsibilities -- concern undergraduates. Student involvement should have been sought as a matter of course.
Last year, when Arthur C. Smith resigned his position as dean, a committee was formed to consider his replacement. This committee, composed of administration-named staff and undergraduates, considered how the Dean's Office should be structured, and made recommendations concerning who should fill the post. While this committee did consult with some groups on campus, it was a far cry from the community-based approach MIT so desperately needs.
It has now been six months since the expiration of that search committee. With Tuesday's announcement, it appears that the recommendations of the committee represented the only student input involved in the decision to split the UESA responsibilities, to create a dean for student life, and to appoint Bates. Even if the recommendations of the relatively non-representative dean search committee carried a lot of weight in establishing the new position and making the appointment, certainly much more could and should have been done.
Such consultation could have taken several forms:more representative students on the dean search committee (appointed by student government bodies), a greater mandate for that committee (to include the structure of the Dean's Office and specific future appointments), and publicity about the intended structure of the Dean's Office before any appointments are made.
Judging from the fact that the decision and appointment were released this month, and the dean search committee did its work in the spring, it seems unlikely that students had any impact on either the reorganization of UESA or the appointment of Bates. The importance of the reorganization itself and the nature of the newly created office demanded student input. The fact that no systematic attempt to get that input was made is evidence that the Dean's Office has yet to commit itself to consensual decision-making processes.
As of today, the two most important figures in the Dean's Office are new to their jobs. Now is the time for Dean Williams and Dean Bates to establish a working relationship with student groups and student leaders. They should be anxious to build reputations as student advocates and seekers of community input. The next several months will test their commitment to values derived consensually, as opposed to goals derived from organizational routines.
The decision-making process in the appointment of Bates casts an unwelcome shadow on the start of a new office. The administration should act more responsibly if it wants students to believe it genuinely cares about their concerns. We hope that, in the future, the deans will make a strong commitment to consider student concerns from the beginning to the end of every such decision-making process.