At Wednesday’s faculty meeting, Professor Patrick H. Winston publicly questioned the MIT administration on how it handled the layoff of Student Support Services Dean Jacqueline R. Simonis, which occurred in June.
Winston asked how Simonis’s treatment was “consistent with MIT culture and values.”
The Q&A section of the faculty meeting is customarily requested to be “off the record.” Winston’s web page carries a copy of his remarks, at http://csail.mit.edu/~phw (see sidebar, page 11).
Winston cited two articles in the Sep/Oct issue of the Faculty Newsletter (online at http://web.mit.edu/fnl), one a chronology of events and one a response by Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75.
The chronology included a concerned letter from President Emeritus Paul E. Gray ’54 and five senior faculty members summarizing issues with Simonis’s firing. The letter said she was let go “for financial reasons,” though she received no advance notice, was told to be available for the transition, and was barred from speaking to her colleagues or returning to her office.
Simonis’s layoff upset members of the faculty and generated a significant outcry, both in letters and personal communications. That response was one of the factors that led Clay to charge a task force with evaluating S^3’s future. Simonis had been at MIT for 23 years.
Clay’s written response said that “all of the layoffs in student life were the result of budget reductions…the layoffs, at all levels, were initiated and conducted according to Institute policies and procedures, in consultation with, and with the full participation by, MIT Human Resources. The process is consistent with MIT culture and values.”
Winston read both excerpts and went on to ask, “Exactly when and by whose direction were adjustments made so as to bring the treatment of Dean Simonis within the scope of our culture and values?”
He asked a second question: “What specifically have you done, or do you plan to do, if anything, to assuage the widespread fear among our people that they will be treated like Dean Simonis, in a manner that seems to me to be not at all in accord with MIT’s culture and values?”
Chancellor Clay responded to Winston noting that legal concerns prohibited a specific response, and proceeded to discuss issues involved in changes at Student Support Services and the S^3 task force, but not MIT’s treatment of Simonis.
Winston told The Tech that Clay’s “response did not seem responsive.”
Chancellor Clay, citing the “off the record” nature of this portion of the meeting, declined to comment, out of concern for damaging the “free and frank exchange” between the faculty and the Administration.
Clay also declined to respond to the public version of Winston’s questions from Winston’s web page.
Simonis did not respond to an e-mail inquiry sent Thursday afternoon.