The process of implementing Residential Life Area Directors (RLADs or ADs) has been criticized by certain undergraduates, recently culminating in an editorial in The Tech on August 31, 2012. While we are glad to see The Tech encouraging a warm welcome for our ADs, we believe that many claims about the AD process are grossly exaggerated or even inaccurate. While not perfect, the process has been neither unacceptable nor “disturbing.” In fact, it has had considerable student involvement, and we urge students to continue to actively participate in shaping the AD into a successful new support role at MIT.
We would like to start by addressing several of the major criticisms we’ve heard from some students:
There was insufficient student involvement.
Next House’s AD selection and implementation has been both engaging and collaborative. Shortly after the “leak,” our Housemasters actively approached the Next House President to discuss the impact of this role on Next. In this meeting, they jointly came to an agreement that this role would be valuable for the community. Interviewers were soon appointed and remained actively involved throughout the hiring process. In fact, after the interviews were complete, the Next Exec interviewers, the GRTs, and Housemasters independently agreed on the candidates that would be the best fit for our house.
Each dorm government involved was given the opportunity to appoint two interviewers. Even dorms that chose not to have ADs this year were invited to participate in the interviews. After the interviews, each dorm was able to choose ADs based on cultural congruence and experience. This administrative decision respected both student input and diversity of dorm cultures.
Admittedly, our example is specific to one dorm. We cannot speak for all the involved dorms, but Next House serves as a concrete example of how the process provided ample room for student involvement.
The process was too quick.
The timeline was very reasonable. Chancellor Grimson was interested in getting the position up and running as quickly as possible, and the most logical time to implement the position was at the beginning of a school year. In order to avoid waiting an entire year to implement the program, the process had to be kept to strict deadlines. There was simply not enough time to go through the tedious process of creating a rigorously selected committee, holding multiple student public forums, and appointing and approving interviewers through the UA Council. While that process serves a purpose in major campus-wide changes, it would have created unnecessary delays in the AD implementation process, which only affects select dorms.
The AD position description is too vague.
The job description of the AD posted by DSL has a clear description of the role and lists specific responsibilities in community development, dean-on-call duties, community standards, supervision, leadership, communication, and administration of dorms. While the requirements tell what the AD is supposed to do, it leaves flexibility in how each AD performs those duties. This allows the role to adapt to different dorms, while still ensuring accountability. Students should discuss the job role with the AD of their dorm if they are confused about the purpose of the role.
ADs take supervision of GRTs away from the Housemasters.
The job description states that the ADs should “Support the Housemasters in their roles as the supervisors of the GRTs.” This means that the GRTs are still directly supervised by the housemasters, but the ADs will be there to help. Housemasters are retaining their role as the supervisor of GRTs, but can rely on the ADs for assistance, especially when travelling.
The AD position was implemented without a pilot.
Last year, Simmons, Maseeh, McCormick, and Burton-Conner each had a live-in RLA, and these four staff worked with all the undergraduate dormitories. The AD is an evolution of existing support systems, not a new system built from scratch. For example, Next House has had both a Next House RLA and a Next House Director in recent years. Our suggestions on the time commitment, support roles, RBA implementation, and other topics have all shaped our AD’s role. In addition, Chancellor Grimson stated in The Tech on June 8, 2012 that the dorms that were concerned about having an AD during the first year of the program would be given the “opportunity to collect residents’ opinions and present them to Division of Student Life (DSL) staff during the first few months of the fall term,” effectively giving them the option to defer.
The ADs declined interviews with The Tech.
There is nothing improper about the ADs declining interview requests from a widely circulated newspaper within three weeks of their arrival on campus. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable to defer interviews to DSL until the ADs are familiar with the MIT culture.
The implementation has created more suspicion than support.
We disagree, as Next House has warmly welcomed our AD, and we have been jointly developing the position into one that is most meaningful for the dorm.
We must also remember that support goes both ways. How can our residents ask ADs for support if we don’t support them? The editorial last Friday questioned the legitimacy of their selection process, and, as a result, the AD’s intentions to first-and-foremost provide care and support for the residents were lost in their plethora of arguments. We hope students will avoid simplistic judgments (such as the AD strictly pursuing “a great opportunity for career advancement”) and instead focus more on supporting their passion for assisting students as we welcome them to our MIT community.
We do not claim the AD process has been perfect; we wish this process had started in the spring when we were on campus, and we wish there had been more student involvement in the decision to create ADs. However, we believe that the process shows clear signs of improvement in student interaction with the administration. Students were involved in the interview process, students have input on how the job works in their respective dorms, and the position was created as an improved support system for students. The AD role should be a big improvement to student support, but students and the administration must continue to work collaboratively to shape it.
Relevant dorm governments and engaged students should brainstorm the role of ADs and ways the ADs can aid Executive Boards, housemasters, GRTs, and residents. All parties should work together to customize a new support system for the residents, while trusting and welcoming ADs to their respective communities. Next has been happy with the process. We have a great AD who is actively engaging with residents and leadership.
As the editorial has pointed out, Chancellor Grimson has called to improve trust and rebuild collaborative spirit. We should continue to respect and uphold this goal from the student side as we incorporate the ADs, a group of talented and supportive individuals who are enthusiastic about their roles and ready to become a helpful part of our undergraduate community.
Austin D. Brinson ’13 is the current president of Next House. Alec C. Lai ’13 was the president last year.
Editor’s Note: In this letter, Alec Lai and Austin Brinson misleadingly suggest that The Tech’s editorial maligned the character of the RLADs. The letter reads “We hope students will avoid simplistic judgments (such as the AD strictly pursuing ‘a great opportunity for career advancement’) and instead focus more on supporting their passion for assisting students as we welcome them to our MIT community.”
However, the original context for the quote from The Tech’s August 31 editorial is the following:
“That being said, let’s be clear: the RLADs did not make any policy decisions, and they did not ask for any controversy. They simply took advantage of a great opportunity for career advancement and to work at an incredible, world-class institution. They’re part of our community now, and they deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other community member. Students should engage positively with RLADs and should go to them for advice and support, if they want to.”