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Housemasters for EC To Leave and Pursue Expeditions Abroad

By Diana Jue

East Campus housemasters Julian K. Wheatley, a senior lecturer in Chinese, and his wife Marjorie Nolan-Wheatley have announced their decision to leave MIT at the end of the academic year.

The Wheatleys, whom “everybody loves,” said East Campus resident Jessica H. Lowell ’07, have been at the Institute for nine years, five of them as East Campus housemasters. “They’re quirky and one of a kind,” Lowell said. “They love the dorm, its culture, and they’re always supportive of us. They ride the rides we build and participate in the life of our dorm.”

Nolan-Wheatley had said that she and her husband would only leave East Campus when he left the Institute.

Both he and his wife “feel like a part of East Campus,” Wheatley said. They formally informed the East Campus community about their departure during the Nov. 19 East Campus house government meeting.

Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict and Robert P. Redwine, dean for undergraduate education, have sent a letter to MIT faculty about the open housemaster position. Faculty members can apply for the position through the end of December, and a search committee of faculty, staff, graduate residence tutors, and East Campus students will meet over the Independent Activities Period to discuss the applicants, Benedict said.

The Wheatleys had been considering their departure for a year before coming to a decision in September. “Factors came together that said it was time to leave,” Julian Wheatley said. For example, his Chinese textbook will be completed by IAP, and the couple’s children have all moved out, giving them more time to pursue other opportunities.

Jungles, adventure in store

Wheatley’s primary motivation for leaving MIT was to return to research of Southeast Asian languages, his wife said. After obtaining his doctorate, he wanted to spend time in Southeast Asia “roaming jungles, studying language and culture,” she said. Wheatley put these goals on hold first to raise a family and then to teach at Cornell and MIT.

This move will give Wheatley “time to think indulgently,” he said, something difficult to do at MIT because of the “very intense and very involved” Institute life where “people get into the intensity and promote it.” Every once in a while, you need to step away, he said. “I’m very glad to have been here for nine years, but there comes a point when I say, ‘That’s it.’”

He contrasts the MIT lifestyle to the slow pace of Burma, one of his long-time interests. “Time sweeps through [MIT] because we’re so active, so busy all the time,” he said. Wheatley said he wants to “see it all slow down” to “focus on the big things in life — those that count.”

Although the Wheatleys have a general sketch of the next three years in mind, few details are set. They plan to make New Orleans their new home base, since Nolan-Wheatley has family there. The couple would like to spend their first year in Southeast Asia so that Wheatley can study Chinese, Burmese, and other regional languages. He said he hopes to receive a grant to stay there for another year, and then find a job.

Wheatley described the risk of the move as like “jumping into the ocean.” But the couple is always looking for an adventure, although “staying at EC is also an adventure,” Wheatley said.

As housemasters of East Campus, the Wheatleys had “wonderful style and lots of energy,” Benedict said. They worked with the students to build community and have even helped change the way others perceive the dormitory. East Campus used to have many vacancies, but now has a waitlist, Benedict said.

The job of housemaster is to “personalize the experience in the dormitory,” said Nolan-Wheatley, although she said that East Campus students complete that task well. “Even after five years, EC is still a mystery to us,” she said.

“There is a wonderfully zany exuberance here,” Nolan-Wheatley said. As housemasters, they could never control the dormitory but only try to understand life there and “guide it a little,” she said.

Candidates for the next EC housemasters will meet with East Campus residents in February. Students will give their input to the search committee, which will recommend two or three people to Benedict. Benedict will discuss the finalists with Susan Hockfield, who will make the final decision in March, he said.

Lowell, who is one of the East Campus residents on the search committee, said she is looking for a housemaster who “respects [East Campus culture], respects us as intelligent people….”

Communication between housemasters and house residents is key, Wheatley said. Housemasters must discover the important issues through the students and house government, he said.

“The next housemasters will be lucky,” Nolan-Wheatley said. “This is a very special place.”