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Administrative Delays Shortchange Students

Despite ten months’ notice, MIT administrators have still been unable to permanently fill the position of Dean for Student Life. Now this June, former dean Margaret R. Bates has left the position and Associate Dean Kirk D. Kolenbrander has been appointed to fill the position on an interim basis. One can only wonder how much longer it will be before a permanent replacement is chosen.

Bates announced her departure on October 13, 1999. The committee formed to search for her replacement did not even begin meeting until fall term finals. In January, committee members said they planned on presenting a list of three or four candidates to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 by April 15, who would then make his decision by May 1. The committee presented its short list in late May and the final decision has not yet been made.

In this time of change for MIT, the role of Dean for Student Life is central. The departure of both Bates and Andrew M. Eisenmann ’70, associate dean for residential life and student life programs, magnifies the change. The new Dean for Student Life will have the power to shape the Institute as issues surrounding community and student residential experience are debated and refined. By keeping this position effectively empty, MIT is seriously hampering its ability to move forward in a positive way.

Already the lack of a Dean for Student Life has slowed development. The new position of Program Administrator for Student Activities, which will include some of the duties currently covered by Assistant Dean for Residence and Campus Life Katherine G. O’Dair (another administrator soon to leave her position), was supposed to have been filled this year. However, because the position reports directly to the Dean for Student Life, administrators chose to hire a temporary Program Administrator so that the new Dean for Student Life could be actively involved in the development of the new position. Several candidates considering the position dropped out when they learned that the position is only for one year.

The Tech also questions the appointment of Kolenbrander to this position. Kolenbrander has served in the position of associate dean for only a year and a half. During that time he worked as process manager for the Residence System Steering Committee. The RSSC reports drew criticism from both undergraduates and graduate students.

Bacow’s final report, in fact, largely ignored the RSSC’s suggestions in favor of the report of his Strategic Advisory Committee. Although Kolenbrander has laudably decided to focus his efforts as interim dean on administration rather than implementing larger changes, those larger changes are needed and should not be delayed any longer than necessary.

On the other hand, The Tech applauds the effort of the administration to involve students in the process of choosing the new Dean for Student Life. Student leaders have had ample opportunity to meet candidate deans.

Student committee members have expressed strong preferences in their choice for the position; we hope that Chancellor Bacow, who must make the ultimate decision, will seriously consider student input.

The Tech urges President Charles M. Vest and Chancellor Bacow to make finding a qualified replacement for Margaret Bates an exigent priority. If the Institute is to succeed in its ambitious attempt to redesign residential community, it must commit to finding the best leaders for these years of change, and to doing so without further delay.