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Students: Help Find a President

With the announcement of committee members in the search for a successor to President Vest, the time is now for students to organize, educate ourselves, and build credibility so we can provide useful suggestions in the search process.

The Tech believes that the best way for students to express our priorities in the selection of a new president is to first take the time to understand the role of the president and priorities of those actually making the selection -- the Corporation -- and then find a way for student priorities to be incorporated into the process.

The student government groups have spent years making efforts toward representing student opinion and understanding the roles and priorities of major Institute players. It is up to them to use this background to lead the process of student input into the selection committee. By playing an influential role in the presidential search process, students will also build a stronger foundation for influencing the decisions of the next president.

The last time MIT searched for a president, one of the main avenues for student input was a forum held during December finals week. However, this presidential search committee has said they are far more willing to accept student input. James Champy ’63, Chair of the Corporation Committee on the Presidency, said that the Corporation has no agenda on student life, but is looking to the community to provide input as to what priorities the next president should have. In addition to receiving input from the student search committee, to be organized by the leaders of student government, members of the corporation committee are willing to -- and already have -- received input from individual members of the community. The opportunities for and expectation of student contribution means that the student body must make informed recommendations to the search committee in order to shape student life in the years to come.

Although many of the president’s duties are external -- raising funds, promoting the role of science and technology, and representing national universities -- the past decade has shown that the president can have a drastic impact on student life. President Vest guided the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, and spearheaded the freshmen on campus decision. Policies on alcohol consumption, FSILG organization, and academic requirements have come partly from the Office of the President. Furthermore, many of the external duties of the president, especially in fundraising, have a direct impact on the quality of the academic and social experience of students at MIT.

The selection of a new president is perhaps one of the most defining moments for the Institute. Many factors contribute to this decision, and thus input into this search will not be used unless it comes from a credible source. Students now have the power to build this credibility by working to understand the requirements for a president. Then, and only then, will students be able to push for a president who is sensitive to the issues most affecting students, and ensure that the next president will not see student concerns as an afterthought.