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Vest Responsible for Lack of Involvement

Column by Anders Hove
Executive Editor

Over the past several years, I've often wondered why it is that students have no influence over MIT affairs. Two obvious explanations come to mind: First, MIT perceives no utility to involving students in the decision-making processes that count. Second, administrators perceive that involving students in decisions would lead to an unacceptable decline in their own prestige and autonomy.

The reorganization of the Dean's Office announced yesterday represents perhaps the most high-handed and unacceptable action taken by the administration during my four years here. While the changes that have been decided upon are by no means good, what is more disturbing is the glee with which various upper administrators have greeted the changes.

Take Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman, for example. He's happy. He's now head of his own bureaucratic regime, a newly created wing of the Dean's Office. Not only that, but his entire scheme for an MIT reorganization was endorsed by President Charles M. Vest and decided upon with no input from the affected departments or from the community at large. A few months ago, when I attempted to convince Immerman that student input was valuable not only to the process, but for undergraduate education, he dismissed my concerns. The educational value of student involvement in decisions, he said, was vastly outweighed by his desire to save money.

Immerman's boss, Senior Vice President for Operations William R. Dickson '56, has been even more cavalier about the secretive reorganization announcement. When pressed yesterday as to whether students were at all consulted about the reorganization, Dickson flared right up: "I don't believe you do everything with a democratic vote," he barked. "I don't think you [the students] should decide how the Institute's going to be organized."

Granted, many students probably can't express an opinion about MIT's upper organization. But there is simply no excuse for this sort of outright anger. Apparently Dickson regards student involvement as some sort of threat that, if implemented, would be highly deleterious to MIT life.

Vest agreed. "I don't normally consult students about who administrators report to," he said. Well President Vest, it's high time you started.

What amazes me is how little pretense there is at the top that students might have a role to play in the direction of their community. The problem, I have come to believe, is with the faculty and with Vest. From their comments last night, it is evident that neither Vest nor the faculty are willing to pay more than lip service to the idea that students should be involved.

Vest, Dickson, and Immerman, of course, understand that students were not involved at all in the decision that they made. The long-since disbanded dean search committee headed by Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Linn W. Hobbs (which made the recommendation about the reorganization) was stacked with faculty and chaired by a faculty member. The committee's report is still confidential. Amazingly, current faculty members believe that this token input was sufficient to placate student concerns.

The real reason, it seems, that community input is only considered at an insultingly low, survey-based level on this campus has nothing to with poor attendance at Institute Committee meetings or the uncoordinated gyrations of the Undergraduate Association. The real problem is that the MIT faculty, including and especially Vest, do not and indeed will not admit that MIT should be fostering among its student body a feeling that we are all citizens in a shared community.