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Dean's Office Hears Student Concerns during Open Forum

By David D. Hsu
News Editor

In an effort to address community concerns, the Dean's Office held the first of a series of open forums with students on Tuesday night. Students brought up several topics ranging from student dining to the writing requirement.

Over 20 students attended the forum hosted by Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, Dean for Student Life Margaret R. Bates, Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph, and Director of Administration and Operations Stephen D. Immerman.

Students were generally pleased with the forum. "I liked the format" of questions and answers, said Christopher D. Salthouse '00. While there was some real communication going on, there also was "a little bit of politicking, but that's to be expected," he said.

Mark A. Story G said the forum was an effective format and he was satisfied with the deans' responses to questions. Story plans to attend future forums.

The next Dean's Office forum will be held Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. in the Religious Activities Center.

Deans' jobs described

Although the forum started with Williams asking the students for their concerns, the first question, made by Salthouse, asked the deans to describe their jobs.

"The dean for undergraduate education does things [which] departments can't do but are essential for student life here," Williams said. Those things include looking at issues like classroom space and interdepartmental communication.

"We have the responsibility of considering the overall education," Williams said.

Bates, who has been at MITfor almost a year, said her job as dean for student life was to be an advocate for the students. Since becoming dean, Bates has been working on the housing and residential life re-engineering team and the large events policy.

Immerman joined the Dean's Office two weeks ago after President Charles M. Vest shifted control of several major offices, previously managed by the operations end of the Institute, over to the Dean's Office.

Immerman is still in the process of finding out what his new job entails, but his 17 years of experience at MIT have helped him better understand students, he said.

Randolph said his job focuses on community relations. He is often "troubleshooting for deans"in the community, he said.

Campus monopolies discussed

The deans also talked about the dining and banking monopolies on campus.

One student asked why MIT does not offer a regular meal plan like those offered by other colleges.

The Institute has a mentality that there is "no rule at MIT that can't be changed," Immerman said. This mentality also applies to the dining situation where several options like dormitory and independent living group kitchens are available.

The dining review working group, which is currently examining food services, must take a look at several issues, Immerman said. The Aramark contract makes up a small percentage of the market of all food sales, partly because many ILGs have their own dining.

While talking about dining, Immerman committed a Freudian slip. "The Aramark contract is up for removal renewal. I mean renewal," Immerman said.

Story asked why Aramark could not deliver quality food quickly and cheaply like the Goosebeary food truck.

Food trucks have little overhead costs like paying union employees and licensing costs, Immerman said. A lot of expenses would be added on if Goosebeary had a place in Walker Memorial.

Another student wanted to know why Baybank is given table space in the Student Center during Residence and Orientation Week. Baybank charges higher monthly fees than other banks, yet other banks are not given table space.

Immerman said he would have to look into the issue and that it may not be legal to deny banks table space.

Where students put their money is an important issue, Immerman said. A survey of 800 students a decade ago showed that MITundergraduates had a total disposable income of around $10 million a year.

There is a need to inform students of different banking and dining options while not overwhelming students with information, Bates said.

Reorganization addressed

Vest's reorganization of the administration was a very centralized decision, said Steven E. Jens '97. Jens asked why the decision was so centralized and why the decision was so quick.

Vest's decision was not a quick decision, Williams said. The death of Vice President for Administration James J. Culliton last spring was an impetus for the reorganization. Vest spent time thinking about the decision, she said.

The reorganization of the administration reporting lines was pushed by several factors, Williams said. Two years ago, the search committee that resulted in Williams' appointment submitted several suggestions about how the Dean's Office should be changed. In addition, current re-engineering reports showed the need for the consolidation of reporting lines, she said.

Deans' powers questioned

Audience members wanted to know more about how far the power of the Dean's Office extended into both Institute credit requirements and departmental classes. One student asked specifically about the influence of the office has on changing the writing requirement.

Any decision regarding the writing requirement has to come from and be approved by the faculty, Williams said. The Dean's Office can advise but really cannot initiate or propose a solution.

A subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program has looked at the "toothless writing requirement," Williams said. The greater emphasis on writing stems from the importance of communication in careers. It is not an effort to make MIT a liberal arts school, she said.

Another situation where the Dean's Office can play a role is in undergraduate advising, Williams said. Advising as it is now is not adequate. The Dean's Office would work with all the departments to help improve advising.

The office may need to create new mechanisms to assess student needs. Restarting the Course Evaluation Guide is one such way of collecting more input.