Chancellor as CommunicatorThe Tech congratulates Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 on his appointment as MIT’s chancellor. Clay, who has served as Head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), will preside over an era of unprecedented change at MIT, both in terms of physical infrastructure and the Institute’s attitude toward residential life. It is therefore critical that Clay make an active effort to gather and consider student input as he begins to confront important decisions.
Clay succeeds Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, whose main accomplishment was redesigning the residence system. Students may remember that Clay was also involved in residence issues; in the spring of 1998, he chaired a committee that produced a report called “Principles for the MIT Residential System.” That report did not go as far as suggesting that all freshmen be housed on campus, but several of its ideas, such as improving mentoring by upperclass students and integrating faculty into residential life and learning, were incorporated into the later “Task Force Report on Student Life on Learning.” Bacow endorsed the “Task Force Report,” and Clay has said that he will now back it wholeheartedly as well.
It is vital in implementing the Task Force recommendations that Clay keep students involved at every stage of the decision-making process. Several of the recommendations are still controversial and the prospect of integrating academic learning with residential life may not sit well with all students. Clay would do well to learn from and improve upon the example of his predecessor, whose major shortcoming was his lack of communication with students.
In order to bridge the communication gap, Clay must seek input from students representing every part of the MIT community. He must work particularly hard because he is not known to most students. Hopefully his time at the helm of DUSP has enabled him to become a better communicator, given that department’s emphasis on involving the public in planning and design decisions.
We are confident that Clay will indeed encourage student input, since he is known for his reputation as a consensus-builder and has said that his style towards making decisions will be to “let processes run.” Clay will undoubtedly find that students won’t always agree with him, but leaving the door open to discussion will go a long way toward improving relations between students and the administration.