Five candidates have just been hired to serve as Resident Life Area Directors (RLADs), beginning Aug. 6 in MacGregor Hall, McCormick Hall, New House, Next House, and Simmons Hall. Two others have been promoted from their previous position of Residential Life Associate (RLA) when that role was discontinued at the end of this academic year. According to Henry J. Humphreys, Dean of Residential Life and Dining, the housemasters of the remaining dormitories — Baker House, Bexley House, East Campus, Random Hall, and Senior House — will meet with their respective communities about their RLADs in the early fall.
The names and dorm assignments of each RLAD are listed in our accompanying sidebar.
Interviews for the position were conducted from Monday, July 16 through Thursday, July 19 by groups of students, GRTs, housemasters, and members of the administration. Unlike GRT interviews, which are conducted on a house-by-house basis, the interviews for RLADs were conducted in role-based groups. Several students were selected from each of the dorms receiving new RLADs and put into small groups that were not based on dorm affiliations. These groups chatted with the 10 candidates individually and had a chance to have dinner with the candidates as a larger group prior to the interviews.
Pooja L. Jethani ’15, a representative of McCormick Hall, said that students asked mostly scenario-based questions. Based on these responses as well the candidates’ background and qualifications, students had mixed opinions about the candidates.
Eli H. Ross ’14 — the president of Simmons Hall and a representative for Simmons in the interviewing process — said that while he thought that most of them had “similar good backgrounds in residential life experience,” they had “weaker backgrounds in terms of formal counseling experience,” and that since “this position to me seems to be a response to a lack of student support on campus, I feel that therefore these people should have a lot of experience in counseling.” He added that he thought only three of the 10 were strong candidates. Jethani echoed that she was unenthusiastic about the candidates beyond her top two choices.
Students said the lack of a well-defined job description was an obstacle during the interview process. While the RLAD position is already well-defined in the field of higher-education, it does not currently exist concurrently with a housemaster-GRT system. A lot of confusion arises from if and how RLADs are expected to work with the current support system, and which housemaster/GRT responsibilities they would take.
Neither the students nor the candidates themselves were given a detailed role description before the interviews. As such, Ross said that many of the candidates could not answer questions definitively, “They had a general idea, but they weren’t sure… so, many times they had to answer honestly — ‘this is what I think now I would do, but I don’t really know what my role is going to entail or what my superior may tell me to do.’ This made the interview process kind of difficult at times.”
The official RLAD job description, which was released on July 23, states that the RLADs’ responsibilities will include working to promote a sense of community and belonging, following up with residents on “medical, psychological, and personal issues” and provide updates to house teams and to the Department of Student Life (DSL), and to “support the housemasters in their roles as the supervisors of the GRTs.”
The job description also listed the minimum qualifications of RLADs are a Master’s Degree in the field of Education Counseling, a “minimum 3 – 5 years of full-time experience in Residential Life/Student Affairs Life work,” and other experiences. Administrators have emphasized these stringent requirements both in communications with the Tech and various stakeholders.
According to their LinkedIn profiles, two of the newly announced RLADs had only graduated from their Master’s Programs in 2010 and 2012, respectively. The earliest Master’s Degree graduation date of any of the RLADs is 2009.
Following the interviews, the students were asked to fill out written evaluations of the candidates. They responded to three questions: (1) “What are the candidate’s strengths as they relate to the Area Director position?” (2) “What are their areas of improvement as you view them?” and (3) “Given your knowledge of your house’s community, would the candidate be a good fit? Why or why not?” The students could also place each candidate into one of three categories: “definitely consider, superior candidate”; “consider, strong candidate”; and “do not consider.”
Humphreys said that the recommendations were surprisingly consistent from group to group; a few candidates were eliminated due to a lack of strong references, and then the hiring decisions were made based on rankings extrapolated from the response sheets. Humphreys said that he and other members of the DSL then worked to determine candidates’ ranking within individual houses, after which he discussed and confirmed the determined placements with housemasters from each residence.
Humphreys said that he was surprised that different residences had distinctly different preferences. Elizabeth W. Santorella ’13, a representative from McGregor, said that it seemed like houses were seeking out different qualities. “I noticed some differences in how involved and outgoing they wanted the RLAD to be,” she said, adding that MacGregor was particularly looking for someone who would respect student privacy but also be available to provide student support.
As such, Humphreys said that DSL was able to match each residence with one of their top preferences. Students from McCormick, Next, MacGregor, and Simmons confirmed that the placements in their residences did align with the recommendations given by their houses.
Ross, Santorella, DormCon President Edward Mugica ’13, and Linda M. Seymour ’14, a representative from Next House, said that students in each residence collaborated with their housemasters — and in some cases GRTs — to submit preferences. However, this was not the case in all houses. Jethani said that while the students from McCormick met to talk about their choices for candidates, they did not speak to the housemasters about their recommendations.
The announcement that RLADs would join the houseteam was a revelation for both undergraduate students and graduate resident tutors (GRTs). On June 6, a letter from Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 to the housemasters was leaked to the entire MIT community. Following campus outcry, student and GRT leaders worked with housemasters to address concerns regarding the position. Humphreys said that the motivation behind the creation of the RLAD role was so “that students feel more support, that there is another person they can turn to” and cited the busy schedules of housemasters and GRTs as a reason for the necessity of the position.
Mugica said that he was on the phone with Humphreys immediately following the release of the letter and has been working with the administration in the ensuing process.
After the information about RLADs was leaked, many students expressed concerns over both the process and the position. Mugica said that his biggest concern was “student disengagement.”
“Basically, there’s this idea that students are going to be upset because this was not done appropriately or because they don’t like the position,” Mugica said. “They’re going to walk away from anything that has to do with the RLAD, and since the point is for the area director to be a member of the house team, they’ll walk away from the house team in general.”
Mugica said that another of his main concerns was that, “If the RLAD does not take cues from students and from student governments, their position will not be useful to students and could in the end actually hurt student involvement and student support more than help it.”
Ross said that his primary concern was the effectiveness of having a student support role that was not a clear response to clear student issues, and that was devised without open student involvement. Ross said that he had also heard student concerns that this was “another step in trying to make MIT very standardized or similar to every other college.”
Jonté D. Craighead ’13, president of the Undergraduate Association, said that his main concern is with the process by which the RLAD role was created — not the position itself.
“We have been taking the approach where we see things that are alarming we’ll call them out,” he said, “but to this point I think that there are very few things that we see alarming about the position. Our concerns are more about the process.”
Humphreys and Grimson did not provide specific answers to questions regarding the timeline and process of the role’s creation.
Despite these concerns, student leaders said that they felt that their best option was to work within the situation that was created in order to ensure further inclusion in the process. Mugica added that “personally, the reason MacGregor decided to move forward, even in light of these concerns, is that we’ve been assured from multiple people — including Dean Humphreys and our housemasters — that the student government will have a very strong input in what the RLADs job will include.”
Another motivation for their respective dormitories’ decision to continue with the RLAD process was because of the alternative, said Ross and Mugica. Without an RLAD and considering the absence of the RLAs, there would be a greater burden on the housemasters.
Still, Mugica emphasized that he had been working with other members of DormCon and the administration to address student concerns, adding that the administration had responded. He said that DormCon specifically raised concerns about the possibility of the RLADs having disciplinary roles, as well as concerns about the non-house specific selection process. He said that while “the administration held that they believed this needed to be an MIT position, and they needed to hire people for MIT and not for an individual dorm … they did allow us to change the questionnaire that was given to the student and GRT representatives so that there would be more emphasis on whether a candidate fit into that representative’s dorm.”
Mugica also said that he was assured by the administration that the RLADs would not have a disciplinary role in houses and that they were not meant to be a replacement for housemasters. Humphreys confirmed that discipline will not be a job objective of the RLADs, but added “that being said, obviously any MIT employee — housemaster or myself or an area director — if we see any violation of institutional policies or state law, we have an obligation to report that.”
Both Mugica and Craighead emphasized that the effectiveness of the position will depend on the willingness of students to engage with the RLAD and provide feedback as to what support roles they feel are needed. It is extremely important “for people to remember that even if they’re upset about the process or disappointed with the way things were done and turned out, the RLAD is not the person who did this. And they want to work with students,” said Mugica. “If there’s one thing I would request, it would be for students to take their frustrations where they belong, and try to engage with the RLAD and make this a positive change — even if it’s not exactly what they wanted.”
Craighead said that the UA is working on a survey to gauge how students feel about the RLAD role and how they think it will be effective. The UA had originally expected to release the survey two weeks ago.
“We’re basically motivated to run the survey so that the dorm governments have a sense of where their residents stand going into the fall semester on the RLAD issue,” said Craighead, saying that continued student involvement will be necessary for the RLAD role to be effective. He and Mugica both emphasized that if the process of communication and feedback continues to develop, they can see the RLAD role strengthening the support structure in residence halls.