Glut of Deans Works Against Students
The appointment of Margaret M. Bates, who takes office today as Dean of Student Life, raises an important issue of administrative organization at MIT. MIT has too many deans, and that this dean-ship is particularly unnecessary and untimely, considering that it comes in the middle of the re-engineering effort.
A glance at the back of the MIT phone book will demonstrate to any student that MIT has too many administrators. A significant fraction of the names listed there have titles such as dean, assistant dean, or associate dean. The sheer number of MIT deans can't fail to confuse students who need to find a way through the red tape to resources they need. This school simply has more deans than it needs.
The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs has operated successfully for the past several years without a separate Dean for Student Life. Since Dean Bates will serve as a subordinate of Dean of UESA Rosalind H. Williams, it appears that the new position has merely added another layer between the student and the person most directly in charge of their affairs.
It is also unclear why MIT is so eager to bring in outside people who are professional administrators, instead of people who are familiar with the MIT culture and with MIT students. This particular dean for student life, for example, will have no unique rapport with students that a long standing member of the faculty might have. In the next few years she will either have to adjust, or merely concentrate on organizational matters.
The creation of the new dean-ship demonstrates the focus on organizational life that seems to pervade the MIT administration. Offices and titles keep changing, with little apparent justification other than bringing in more people and more bureaucracy. It seems likely that one of the biggest role this particular dean carries is helping UESA fight turf battles during the process of re-engineering, which is supposed to get pare down campus bureaucracy.
The major problem with organizational changes in general, however, is that they contribute so little to improving student life. By the time people have adjusted to the new lines of authority and responsibility, it's time for another change. Switching titles around every two years is both confusing and underproductive. The appointment of a dean for student of life, regardless of Margaret M. Bates' qualifications, is fundamentally unnecessary.