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UAA Dean Search Proceeds

By Stacey E. Blau
Editor in Chief

The search for a replacement for Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs Travis R. Merritt is underway, with a recent set of student forums providing the groundwork for the selection process.

Merritt will be retiring as of Oct. 1, although he will continue to be involved in some UAA activities.

The meetings centered primarily on students' ideas of the roles of the UAA office, although they also were intended as a way for students to voice suggestions on specific candidates for Merritt's replacement, said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

Most students did not make suggestions for specific candidates but instead talked about the qualities the future dean should have, said Merritt, who attended one of the meetings.

Williams said that the new dean should be in place by the start of next term. She currently has a list of about a dozen people under consideration for the position and is specifically "looking for a faculty member" to fill the post, she said.

Forums focus on student concerns

Many of the meetings focused on concerns students have about UAA and the areas under its purview.

Williams said that students discussed issues ranging from confusion over the mailing freshmen receive the summer before they come to MIT to the overall undergraduate academic advising system.

Students also commented on academic orientation during Residence and Orientation Week, the problems freshmen experience finding jobs in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and the lack of academic credit classes offered during Independent Activities Period.

"What they were interested in was finding out what we thought of the dean's office and what they did - more what we knew about what they actually did," said Michael A. Behr '98, who attended one of the forums.

Behr suggested one service the office could offer students in academic trouble might be "some place with big flashing red arrows that said, If you're in trouble, go here'," he said.

Behr also mentioned the idea of extending the associate adviser system that exists freshman year into the system for upperclassmen.

Replacing Merritt may be tough

There was some discussion of candidates at the meetings, but mostly in a general way, Williams said. It was not about "here's the person who should replace Travis'," she said.

Some students did have ideas on specific candidates, though. "We thought that the housemasters would be perfect" candidates, Behr said.

Finding a replacement for Merritt may prove difficult in that his position was "defined so much in terms of personality," Williams said. Merritt has a number of special ties to programs - like the freshman advisory seminars - that have defined his tenure as dean.

His job requires an ability to interact with students on a number of levels. "It's really not something where you place a job description" for a replacement, she said.

Williams said that she will be considering whether or not to have additional forums for input on the selection process. "The student forums were really very successful," Williams said. "There was a lot of discussion a lot of feedback."

Re-engineering to shape UESA

The past two years have seen considerable turnover in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs and now UAA, which is a part of UESA. Williams took office a little over a year ago and Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates arrived just last winter.

The big changes do not bother Williams. "The turnover is nothing unusual," she said. These are offices "where people start out and go on to other things."

The offices will experience some degree of restructuring as a result of the re-engineering process, Williams said. When considering the offices' future direction and any changes that may be made, "we don't want to get ahead of the decision-making process" of re-engineering, she said.

"Re-engineering is going to have some effect on the shape of the office," Merritt said. Hopefully, it will mean changes that centralize mechanical processes and paperwork in the office and allow deans "more time to sit down face-to-face with students," he said.

In the mean time, the process itself is "drawing people from the office" to actually participate in re-engineering, Merritt said. "That's sometimes vexing."