The Tech welcomes L. Rafael Reif to his new job at president, and applauds the presidential search committee for meaningfully incorporating student and community input into the process. Reif is a good choice — his vast academic and institutional experience at MIT and solid track record as provost make us optimistic he’ll handle the president’s job well. As he prepares to take up his new mantle, we have a few things for him to think about.
Outgoing President Susan J. Hockfield was largely outward-facing; she was a great fundraiser, and was instrumental in forging high-profile industry, government, and foreign partnerships. But we note that she relied heavily on her administrative team to handle student issues, and she did not have an active hand in most student life policy. MIT’s president should certainly not focus solely on student issues, but we do urge Reif to play a greater role than his predecessor did. Especially given his emphasis on improving education, understanding the student viewpoint will be crucial for the new president.
As The Tech has mentioned in prior editorials, we would like to see student engagement on everything from campus space planning to edX. If students feel as if they are not being involved — even if they really are — something is wrong. We like Reif’s idea of holding open office hours (remember to provide snacks!), as he suggested at his inaugural press conference last month. Regular visits to the dormitories (not just ones with dining halls) are also an excellent way to get in touch with students. So far, the president-elect has impressed us with his accessibility — he served as a freshman advisor last year and made time to meet with undergraduates about MITx. Reif has also been responsive to Tech inquiries, so keep it up!
If the president-elect is looking for specific student-centered issues to get involved with, we recommend he focus on space planning for the future academic and non-academic needs of graduate and undergraduate students. This month’s Faculty Newsletter has an excellent discussion on these topics. We look to Reif’s administration to develop clear channels for incorporating student input on the campus evolution.
We’re sure the new president needs no reminding that edX is in a space that begs for deep student involvement. There’s simply no substitute for evaluating the true effectiveness of online learning experiments like edX. He should keep in mind questions like: 1) How will we actually measure whether edX is improving residential education? 2) How will reliable assessment be delivered online? 3) How will the on-campus experience at MIT distinguish itself in a world where anybody can take MIT courses?
We hope President-elect Reif will keep these ideas close when he assumes the presidency on July 2. We look forward to working with him over the next several years.