MIT’s First Student Life Dean To Retire at End of School Year

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Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict will retire at the end of the academic year after almost eight years of service to MIT.
Photo Courtesy of Office of the Dean for Student Life

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Oct. 23, 2007 news article, “MIT’s First Student Life Dean to Retire at End of School Year,” inaccurately stated that residential dining at Next House and Baker House restarted during Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict’s time at MIT. Neither dining hall closed during that time, and thus could not have restarted.

Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict will retire at the end of this academic year. As the Institute’s first dean for student life, Benedict drew fresh attention to improving the student experience, resulting in the construction and renovation of several dormitories and the expansion of residential dining among other initiatives.

Benedict will leave the Institute after a 35-year career in higher education, eight of which will have been spent as dean for student life at MIT.

“My decision to retire has been several years in the making and I have delayed it in the past because of my great love for MIT, its students and its culture,” Benedict wrote in an e-mail statement to Division of Student Life staff on the morning of Oct. 19.

Benedict became MIT’s first student life dean after an administration restructuring in 2000 carved out the Division for Student Life as a new body focusing on campus dining, housing, and student services.

“I’ve very sad to see him go,” said Undergraduate Association President Martin F. Holmes ’08. “He’s been one of the strongest supporters of the UA, student groups, and students in general.”

Benedict joined MIT near three high-profile lawsuits, arriving right after the suicide of Elizabeth H. Shin ’02 in April 2000. Shin’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Jan. 2002. In Nov. 2002, the parents of Richard A. Guy Jr. ’99 also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against MIT, after Guy’s 1999 nitrous oxide inhalation death. Benedict was personally named as a defendant in the Julia M. Carpenter ’03 wrongful death lawsuit in 2003. Carpenter committed suicide in April 2001.

Benedict represented the Division of Student Life on the mental health task force in 2001. The task force was formed to evaluate student support and mental health services at MIT following this string of student deaths.

Before he leaves MIT, Benedict said he plans to reexamine dining services and further renovate the dormitories. He cited among his current chief concerns the opening of NW35, the new graduate dormitory being built near Sidney-Pacific graduate dormitory, as well as the blue ribbon dining committee, which will address concerns about dining costs and availability.

Benedict says he would tell the next dean to “get to know MIT.” “It’s a very different place, it has its own personality,” he said. “Get to know the students. They’re wonderful.”

Prior to his arrival at MIT, Benedict served as dean for student affairs at Johns Hopkins University. His first task at MIT was to create the entirely new Division for Student Life, portions of which had previously been part of the Department for Undergraduate Education. “[Benedict] built the division from the many fragments we had to put together,” Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 said.

During Benedict’s tenure, he oversaw the construction of the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, as well undergraduate dormitory Simmons Hall and graduate residences the Warehouse, Sidney-Pacific, and the soon-to-be completed NW35. He expanded the housemaster program to graduate residences and restarted residential dining at Baker House, McCormick Hall, and Next House.

Benedict supported student activities and oversaw a student leadership development initiative, as well as the expansion of the Public Service Center.

“I will remember Larry Benedict as an effective and caring professional of great integrity, energy and compassion.” Clay said.

Clay, who announced Benedict’s retirement in an Oct. 19 e-mail to the MIT community, has appointed Dean of Graduate Students Steven R. Lerman ’72 to chair an advisory committee of MIT staff, faculty, and student representatives that will identify Benedict’s replacement.

The committee will decide on qualities desired in the next dean for student life and present Clay with a shortlist of four to 10 candidates, Lerman said. The final decision rests in the hands of Clay, who said he hopes to announce the name by next spring in time for the new dean to start July 1.

In his retirement, Benedict said he hopes to do volunteer work and go fishing. But before anything, he said, he will take some time off.

“I’ve got to catch up on sleep,” he said.