Next House Housemasters Medard, Simmons Will Leave at End of Term

Next House housemasters Muriel Medard ’89 and John Simmons ’90 will leave the post at the end of the 2007–8 academic year to focus on their family.

Medard said in an e-mail that the decision is a result of space pressures. “The kids are getting bigger,” she wrote, “and it was getting very tight when we had long visits by relatives.”

Perhaps the housemasters’ most widely-known achievement is their advocacy for freshman participation in Residence Exploration. This fall, freshmen will be able to enter or leave Next House, putting the dormitory in line with all other undergraduate dormitories except McCormick Hall and the cultural houses.

“People sometimes concentrate on the fact that freshmen could not leave - the fact is also that freshmen could not come in,” Medard wrote in an e-mail. “I think that allowing the students who are most enthusiastic about Next House to live there will strengthen the community further,” she wrote.

When Medard and Simmons came to Next House in fall 2006, freshmen were barred from REX because of constraints imposed by the Residence-Based Advising program, in which students who live together share an academic advisor. RBA was first adopted by the dormitory in 2002. One Tech letter writer dubbed the policy which kept entering freshmen in Next House “the RBA flytrap.”

Medard said that despite its effect on REX, residence-based advising has helped the Next House maintain a strong sense of community. “The dorm has kept its very service-oriented culture, which we have really enjoyed,” she wrote.

As housemasters, Medard and Simmons are responsible for the social well-being of Next House’s nearly 400 residents. It “is an intense job, but it is also completely unique in its rewards,” Medard wrote.

“There are particular instances which we shall look back on with great satisfaction and that no other job in academia can give,” she wrote, citing as an example “a student who maybe went through a very rough patch and then thanked you after graduation.”

The housemasters offered support in October 2007, when Anna L. Tang, then a Wellesley College student cross-enrolled at MIT, entered Next House and allegedly stabbed her ex-boyfriend Wolfe B. Styke ’10 seven times. Medard said that she and Simmons tried to ensure the well-being of students who needed support after the event: “Mostly, we just offered a haven.”

Some students were disappointed that Medard and Simmons gave them little immediate information about the stabbing. “I was somewhat disturbed to find out about this from someone who does not live at Next House,” Albert W. Chang ’10 wrote in an e-mail to the next-forum mailing list. Chang wrote in an e-mail that he heard about the stabbing from a Boston resident after he left Next House and went to class.

At the time, Medard said in an e-mail to next-forum that she only told residents the facts she could verify, and that she was limited by concerns about privacy.

Both Medard and Simmons have undergraduate and graduate degrees from MIT. Medard, an associate professor, is working at Harvard University on sabbatical.

Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, who plans to retire at the end of this academic year, will organize the search for new Next House housemasters. Medard is a member of the committee appointed to find his replacement.

Housemaster work, however, need not always be challenging.

During dress rehearsals for last year’s annual Next Act show, the housemasters’ second eldest child was in the show and was turning seven. “I have a very fond memory of our family and the cast sharing a chocolate birthday cake,” Medard wrote.

“There are many students whom we shall never forget and who, I hope, will stay in touch with us,” Medard wrote.