Just Another Administrator
The appointment of Dean of Engineering Robert A. Brown and Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Lawrence S. Bacow '72 to the positions of provost and chancellor, respectively, was greeted with great fanfare by the administration this week. "Chancellor" is a new position created to take some of the workload off of the provost, who is responsible for academic administration. Ostensibly, the new chancellor will be a kind of strategic guru who coordinates the long-term planning of MIT's many diverse departments.
One of MIT's largest problems is its lack of vision and coordination. For students, this lack of vision manifests itself in the form of the burgeoning administration, whose complexity and ever-shifting responsibilities defy comprehension. In addition, the lack of coordination has meant that the many different ideas about how student life might be improved have remained half-implemented pipe-dreams at best.
These two problems - lack of coordination and poor oversight of student life issues - should be the focus of any attempt at refining the work of the MIT administration. The creation of the position of chancellor appears to be motivated in part by a desire to rectify these problems.
In the past, however, throwing more bodies at the problem has done little or nothing to solve it. The much-touted split of the Dean's Office into two positions (followed by a gratuitous renaming) has had little impact on student life on campus. Last year's effort to fold various operational wings into the Dean's Office has also accomplished nothing. It may be that the provost is overworked, but will splitting the office result in better administration, or just more of the same?
MIT needs more than different administrators and new forms of organization. The Institute needs a new vision for student life itself, not just its administration.
Brown and Bacow are both qualified for the positions they will fill, and hence we congratulate them on their appointments. At the same time, however, we remain skeptical about the prospects for significant change. If these appointments are followed by real leadership from the top, then they may succeed. Otherwise, the new arrangement will mean nothing more than the title "chancellor" does.