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Behnke Leaves MIT Admissions Office

By Jean K. Lee
associate news editor

After 11 years as the director of admissions, Michael C. Behnke will be leaving MIT to become the first associate dean of the College for Enrollment at the University of Chicago in May.

"I think it's time for me to have new challenges, and it's good for MIT to get a new perspective from someone new," Behnke said.

"I'm very delighted about what we've been able to accomplish here at MIT during the years I've been here," Behnke said.

"I really enjoyed the level of commitment and intelligence that people bring to solving problems here. The ultimate success has been a tremendous amount of fun, and I hope to find that at the U of C as well," Behnke said.

"We're losing someone who has been an extraordinarily effective member of the administration and MIT community," said President Charles M. Vest, "but it is a tremendous opportunity for Michael, and I fully understand his decision."

"It's, from MIT's point of view, bad luck that this opportunity came along at this time," said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams, "and I think it took something exceptional to pull him away."

Search committee being formed

Williams, with the help of Vest and Provost Joel Moses PhD '67, is currently in the process of convening a search committee.

The committee, which will most likely consist of five faculty members and two students, will be responsible for reviewing applicants and making recommendations to Williams, who will ultimately make the final decision.

"We need to do it as quickly as possible," Williams said, "but it's much more important to get the right person than to rush the process."

The director of admissions needs to manage the 20 to 25 members of the Admissions Office, create team spirit, and work with the faculty committee and admissions policies. The position will be advertised nationally, Williams said.

Both Vest and Williams feel confident that the position will attract qualified applicants among whom they will select a new director. "I have no doubt that we can get a really top-quality person because Michael's leaving the office in a very good shape," Williams said.

Behnke built diverse student body

During his years at MIT, Behnke has played an essential role in building "a wonderfully diverse undergraduate student body," Vest said. Since 1985, when Behnke joined MIT, there have been significant changes in the demographics of the undergraduate population.

While the size of the entering class has remained relatively steady, the percentage of women has soared from 28 to 42 percent and the percentage of minorities has more than doubled from 8.5 to 17.5.

Vest emphasized the importance of the role of the director of admissions. "This is an extremely important position because the two things that really define the Institute are faculty and students," he said. "Selecting students is a very important function that must be done well."

The position plays a critical role in presenting MIT to the public, Williams said. "The director represents MIT to the outside world," she said.

There may be an interim director in the event the best match for MIT is not found before Behnke leaves. However, the staff members of the Admissions Office will be able to carry out the process without any problems, Vest said. "He has built a very talented staff and very self-motivated and well organized staff," he said.

Behnke formed Institute's image

Behnke has also contributed to developing an image of the Institute that is "simultaneously very intellectually honest about the nature and intensity of the educational environment here and still portrays the great excitement and creativity of the institution," Vest said. "The admissions team has done a spectacular job with the communications," he said.

In addition, he has worked to increase faculty involvement in the admissions process to better "identify outstanding students with special talents" in order to increase the quality of students.

Behnke said that initially he was not interested in the position at the Universityof Chicago, especially since the recent reorganization at the Institute integrated the Admissions Office into the Dean's Office.

"I'd been very happy at MIT," he said, "[but] it seemed like a good time for a move."

At U of C, the director of financial aid and the current dean of admissions will both report to Behnke. "It's a larger portfolio at a vice president's level, which attracted me."

Behnke will be more involved with "long-range planning" and have an opportunity to "get involved in decisions outside of admissions with a larger group of people."

Uof C will increase enrollment

In an effort to strengthen the undergraduate experience, President Hugo Sonnenschein of the University of Chicago created a new vice president's position that will focus on increasing the size of the college by approximately 1,000 students, while maintaining high quality educational standards.

Behnke will help to implement these plans. Presently, there are about 3,500 undergraduates at U of C. "In many respects, they [U of C] don't have as rich an infrastructure as MIT does at the present time," Behnke said.

One of the underlying objectives of Sonnenschein's plan is to increase the university's tuition income in order to support various student programs and maintain endowment and alumni funds. Currently, U of C's alumni base is comparatively smaller than that of MIT and other universities of similar size, Behnke said.

"A larger student body creates a larger critical mass and allows a lot more choices in the curriculum," Behnke said. However, the process must be carried out carefully to keep with the school's character of focusing on small discussion groups, Behnke said. To that end, Behnke will first focus on increasing the applicant pool.

Prior to joining MIT, Behnke served as dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts University for nine years and as associate dean of admissions and dean of freshmen at his alma mater, Amherst College from 1971 to 1976. In addition, he spent several years in his early career as a mathematics teacher and a Peace Corps teacher in Sierra Leone and may continue to travel internationally before retirement. He plans to stay at U of C for at least the next 10 years before retirement.