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Williams’ Resignation Prompts Restructuring

By Rima Arnaout

Rosalind H. Williams will resign her post as dean of students effective this June, returning to a position in the MIT faculty.

Williams told senior MIT administrators about the decision three weeks ago. “It was not an easy decision, and it was made primarily for personal reasons,” Williams said in a printed statement.

“It’s my fifth year as dean ... a normal term for somebody who’s always planned to return to faculty,” Williams said.

According to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, no recent events precipitated this decision for Williams to return to faculty. “Dean Williams’ decision to step down was hers alone. These jobs are very demanding. They take us away from our scholarship and teaching which is why we all became academics in the first place,” Bacow said.

“Roz has been a wonderful dean. We are fortunate that she was willing to put the Institute’s students ahead of her own scholarly career for five years ... our current focus on integration of student life and learning is a direct result of Roz’s strong leadership and passionate and articulate voice,” Bacow said.

Williams is second dean to resign

Williams’ announcement comes shortly after the Dean of Student Life Margaret R. Bates said she would leave MIT at the end of the school year.

“My first instinct was I should stay on awhile; [our leaving the same year] seemed a disadvantage,” Williams said. But Williams “decided it wouldn’t be a disadvantage and it might even be an advantage” to consider the job descriptions of Bates and Williams in tandem.

“We need somebody who can look at academics from an institute-wide perspective. I’m trying to do it but I’m trying to handle too much so I can’t focus on academics,” Williams said. “As a faculty member you want to focus on academics; that’s what you do, that’s what you know. I certainly did end up spending more time on residential life then I ever anticipated,” due to the reorganization of the Dean’s Office in 1996 and the aftermath of the death of Scott S. Krueger ’01, Williams said.

“It wasn’t what I planned but it had a profound impact on getting residential to be life seen as part MIT education,” Williams said.

Dean’s Office to be split

With the double vacancy in the Dean’s Office, senior administration is discussing splitting the Dean’s Office. “One model under discussion is to have a dean for undergraduate education and a dean for student life, both of whom report to the Chancellor. Even with this model we’d have a very, very close relationship between the two deans and the two offices,” Williams said.

“The new dean for undergraduate education will be a member of the faculty, whereas dean for student life might not be,” Williams said. Residential Life and Student Life Programs will report to the dean for student life while offices like the Office of Academic Services will report to the dean for undergraduate affairs.

“The decision about how to do this will be made by the senior administration altogether,” Williams said. “Vest especially will want to review any model. He created the Dean’s Office in 1996 ... and we want to maintain that achievement,” Williams said.

Currently, the Dean for Student Life reports to the Dean of Undergraduate Education, who in turn reports to Bacow.

Office reshaped through term

The power structure in the Dean’s Office has changed significantly in the five years since Williams accepted the post.

“There were two stages: the first was in the fall of 1996, when what we now know as ODSUE was created,” Williams said. “The second really major change was in the spring of 1998 when we had a change of senior leadership.” In 1998, Robert A. Brown became Provost and John R. Curry became Executive Vice President.

Bacow’s appointment as Chancellor at the same time brought back a senior administrative position whose focus is student affairs.

The 1996 reorganization of ODSUE changed the responsibilities of the Dean’s Office significantly. Admissions now reports to the Dean of Students, as does career services, student financial services, all operations of residential life, campus dining, campus activities complex, and athletics, Williams said.

Also, “we’re now doing fundraising in a more focused way, speaking on behalf of the students,” Williams said.

“Margaret Bates and I were hired for a much smaller office ... for both of us there’s been a huge expansion in the definition of the job and the size of the office,” Williams said.

Search on for new dean

Bacow is currently forming a search committee to find the new Dean of Students. “There will be a search for a new Dean. Professor Graham C. Walker will chair the search committee,” Bacow said.

The committee will include MIT administrators as well as faculty and student representatives. “You need that presence because that job has a lot of administrative responsibility,” Williams said.

“The fact that we are also searching for a new Dean of Student Life also gives us an opportunity to think about how we can strengthen both positions to better serve students,” Bacow said.

Williams eager to teach

“The role of the humanities at MIT right now is a really exciting one ... humanities faculty at MIT have in many ways been at the forefront of the information revolution,” Williams said.

Williams’ term as dean had given her insights to apply to teaching. “I’m much more interested in trying to build connections between my school and the rest of MIT, and I have a much deeper sense of the lives of our students outside of the classroom.”

When she returns to teaching, Williams is not planning to do any more administrative work. “It’s hard to avoid committees, however,” Williams said.

Williams received her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and came to MIT in 1980. She is the Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing and became Dean of Students in 1995.