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Open Forums not Done Right

The administration has replaced a half-dozen deans in the past year and in the process has shown a passive, often blatant disregard for student opinion. As it prepares to choose the new assistant dean for residence and campus activities, who is in charge of overseeing student activities, it looks like it may repeat the mistake: The administration will have to seriously rethink next week's student input forums to get it right this time.

Search committee member Andrew J. Rhomberg G has organized the open forums in the hope of helping the committee gather student opinion about the candidates so that a more informed selection can be made. Only one candidate will appear at each forum; the forums are currently scheduled for next Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings. As it stands, this plan won't work.

The problem with these forums is twofold. First, the timing and length of the forums are such that few students will be able to attend even one, let alone all three of the hour-and-a-half meetings. Yet in order to make an informed decision about all the candidates, students who care must do just that. At 90 minutes apiece, on three nights a week, that will not happen.

Second, since the search committee has refused to release any information about the candidates in advance, it is unwise to expect students to come to the meetings prepared to discuss the candidates' merits. While it is admirable to use such forums as a litmus test for future selection procedures, the current scheme will almost certainly fail to generate useful input.

The most disturbing element of the forums is that the identities of the three candidates - none of whom are from MIT - will not be revealed until the evening of each forum. This seeming shroud of secrecy is counterproductive. While the administration has valid concerns about shielding the candidates from scrutiny the second they set foot on campus, to hide their names from the very student body they purport to serve is at best wrong-headed and at worst hypocritical.

There are ways to avoid this mistake. A better idea would be to hold a single two-hour question-and-answer session with all three candidates. This format would much better encourage an intelligent exchange of ideas between students and candidates.

This series of forums marks a milestone. Issues like allocating funds, reserving space, and accessing student bank accounts herald the importance of finding a helpful assistant dean for RCA. But if the administration truly cares about student opinions regarding appointment of student deans, it should really try to be more accessible and open to student input in the future. These drawn-out, exclusive forums are not the answer.