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Bacow’s Mixed Legacy

With his departure to become president of Tufts University, Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 leaves behind a legacy much more significant than his three short years in power would indicate.

As one of the most visible figures of MIT’s post-Krueger reconstruction, Bacow was at the center of the residence system redesign which followed President Charles M. Vest’s edict that all freshmen be housed on campus. Guiding the chancellor’s decisions regarding this and other issues was a vision for a radically different way to improve student-faculty interaction.

Bacow’s goals of increasing community on campus and improving faculty-student relations find little opposition. However, the chancellor did agitate the student body in the attempt to realize his goals. The true test of the popularity of Bacow’s plans is in the details of their implementation. Here the record is decidedly more mixed.

Bacow had several successes as chancellor, foremost among them the redesign of the residence system. Here Bacow genuinely listened to student input. He deserves praise for his report, which heavily incorporated recommendations made in the unified student response to the unpopular initial report.

Unfortunately, the large scope of student input in the residence redesign was an exception to Bacow’s modus operandi. Bacow cites athletics as one of the keystones of his legacy, but he presided over the elimination of junior varsity teams. Bacow was responsible for the controversy surrounding the Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) program when he stubbornly clung to the proposed student center location. He also disregarded the wishes of the Graduate Student Council when he insisted on including a day care center in the Sidney-Pacific dormitory. All together, Bacow’s legacy is not wholly positive.

These examples illustrate Bacow’s biggest problem at MIT: communication. At times Bacow didn’t seem to realize that other people had different visions of MIT than he did. His obstinacy in clinging to his own vision caused friction between the student body and administration and only served to amplify controversy.

We wish Bacow well as he leaves for Tufts, and hope his presidency there will be successful and fulfilling. We hope that at Tufts he takes the time to communicate with and listen to students -- openness will only help both him and the Tufts student body.