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McCants Declines Housemaster Position

By Dan Cho

Associate Professor of History Anne E. McCants has resigned as future housemaster for Simmons Hall and will be replaced by Professor of Toxicology and Chemistry John M. Essigmann and his wife, Ellen, when the new dormitory opens this fall.

The change in personnel was announced Friday by Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. McCants had served as chair of the Simmons Founder’s Group and was expected to assume the role of housemaster once the new dorm opened in September, 2002. McCants made her decision to step down in mid-December due to personal and professional reasons.

“The increasing demands in my department and also change in my family situation both were compelling me to think long and hard about whether I could do the job properly,” McCants said, “especially opening a new dorm, with all of the attendant complications.”

The delay in the opening of Simmons Hall, which was originally scheduled for September, 2001, also contributed to McCants’ decision to decline the post.

Essigmanns had tough decision

In choosing new the housemasters for Simmons, Benedict consulted McCants, the housemasters and presidents of several other MIT dorms, and Chancellor Phillip L. Clay. In the end, the Essigmanns were offered the position, in part because of a longstanding Institute practice of bringing experienced housemasters into new dormitories.

“They’re two of our most experienced housemasters,” Benedict said. “They’ve done excellent work there. They’ve established a sense of community.”

The Essigmanns spent over a week considering the offer, and they announced their decision to New House residents last Thursday.

“We had very mixed feelings about it because we were so close to the New House community,” John Essigmann said. Yet the Essigmanns were drawn to the chance to observe and help guide a fledgling dorm community.

“When you take normal housemastering and throw on top of it the challenge of moving in and helping students form a community, I think it’s the kind of thing that becomes irresistible,” John Essigmann said.

Simmons’ shaky beginnings

The change in housemasters is only the latest transition in the leadership of Simmons Hall. Two weeks ago, the Founder’s Group was dissolved and a Steering Committee consisting of students and Graduate Resident Tutors was formed.

Neither Benedict nor the Essigmanns were concerned that the many recent changes would cause a disruption in the planning of Simmons Hall. Undergraduate Founder’s Group members Vikash Gilja ’03 and Ross E. Benson ’03 are serving on the new Steering Committee. Furthermore, although McCants will no longer serve as housemaster, she remains interested in the planning and dorm life of Simmons Hall, and intends to become a house fellow for the new dorm when it opens.

“One of the beauties of the housemaster system, if it’s working well, is that you can have transitions from one housemaster to the next ... it’s not dependent on a specific individual, but rather on the combination of institutions that are in place and the individuals who step up to fill them,” McCants said. “I don’t anticipate any problems.”

Also announced on Friday were the associate housemasters for Simmons Hall, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Muriel Medard ’89 and her husband John Simmons ’90. Both Medard and Simmons hold undergraduate and graduate degrees from MIT. Medard has been a professor in the department since 1995.

Meanwhile, a committee is being assembled to select a new housemaster for New House. The committee will be chaired by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Bora Mikic, housemaster of Next House, and will include student leaders of New House.

Benedict predicts that the search will proceed swiftly, aided by an already existing group of potential applicants formed during housemaster selection for the new Sidney and Pacific graduate dorm.

“We already have some candidates in the pool” said Benedict. “We’re hoping that we can speed this one up.”