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Deans on Call Provide Help to Students

Ready to Provide Counseling and to Help Students 24 Hours a Day, All Year Long

By Katharine Freeman

Have you ever felt that the MIT administration was too distant to help you in a time of need? Think again.

The Deans on Call (DOC) position, which has existed since the early 1970’s, helps students at their request with anything during a time of need.

“Anything [students] consider an emergency is an emergency,” said Dean on Call Carol Orme-Johnson.

The program began with the creation of a Dean in Residence, who lived on campus and was available year round from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Two years ago, the program evolved into the Deans on Call, a group of four deans who each take one week per month.

The Deans on Call program aimed to eliminate the “heavy burden” that formally fell on the Dean-in Residence, said Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert M. Randolph.

The DOC’s number can be obtained from the Campus Police, and they are available at any hour of the night. “In the night there are a whole range of personal needs that come up with students,” said Randolph.

DOC helps with grades, bail

The deans deal with issues ranging from helping sick students who are worried about taking an exam to helping get students out of jail. Recently, Orme-Johnson was called when a student fell through the roof.

“There’s just a range of things that can happen from the sublime to the ridiculous,” said Randolph. He was once asked to get some students who were arrested for stealing a Christmas tree out of a New Hampshire jail.

In most cases, the problems involve academic issues. Whatever the crisis is, said Orme-Johnson, “it’s okay to call. That’s what we’re here for.” The deans often receive tips from housemasters, advisors, professors, or parents who are concerned about a student’s well being.

The deans often call professors to inform them of a student’s sickness, and can arrange for a student to get money to fly home for a funeral.

The four deans have weekly meetings, at which they discuss situations and potential responses. “We talk a lot,” said Orme-Johnson, “If there’s something serious going on, we’ll likely consult each other.”

The number of calls received by the DOCs varies throughout the year. While fewer people are on campus during the summer, which results in less calls, the end of semester is a particularly busy time. Randolph noted that “October is when stuff gets serious.”

Leo Osgood, who was the Dean in Residence for 12 years, and recently retired this past June, remarked on the weather as a factor which adds to student stress. “The fact that it gets dark sooner” tends to increase the number of calls, said Osgood.

Although many students don’t know about the Deans on Call, “they probably don’t need to know,” said Orme-Johnson. The information on the Deans on Call is available in a number of places, including information distributed during orientation.

People often find out about the program through “word of mouth,” added Osgood. Since the program is “low-key,” said Randolph, only the most serious cases reach the deans.

The current Deans on Call have made a commitment to being a DOC for several years. “I think most of us expect to be doing this for a while,” Orme-Johnson said.

Unlike Osgood, who was the full-time Dean in Residence, the change of the program to Deans on Call has allowed the deans to have day jobs. Three deans work in the office of Residential Life.

“I think a place like MIT can get very impersonal,” said Randolph. “The only way you can humanize a place like this is to have people like us.”