Dean for Student Life Search Committee Will Start Interviews in May

The search for Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict’s replacement is well underway, and a preliminary list of the top eight candidates will be chosen Monday afternoon.

Following the current schedule, a new dean could be named as early as June or as late as early July. Benedict will leave at the end of the academic year, at the end of August, said Undergraduate Association President Martin F. Holmes ’08, a member of the committee that is selecting the new dean.

A community picnic honoring Benedict will be held Monday, May 5, in Killian Court starting at noon. As Dean for Student Life, Benedict has worked on campus dining issues, overseen dormitory renovations, expanded the housemaster program to graduate residences, and worked on other student services projects. His position, which allows him to advocate on students’ behalf, also makes him responsible for student life and well-being in a tangible way, evident in his work on the 2001 Mental Health Task Force.

Benedict was unavailable for an interview.

About six dozen candidates to replace Benedict have been vetted by an external search firm, and of those, about three dozen have complete applications, Holmes said. On Monday afternoon, immediately after the picnic, the search committee will review packets of information about each potential replacement, and they will choose a list of eight candidates to interview further, Holmes said.

First-round interviews with the committee will be held in the subsequent week, Holmes said. The committee will choose three or four candidates to invite to a second round of interviews with the committee, administrators, and students, to be held in the second half of May.

If the committee cannot make a final recommendation after these interviews, a final round of interviews with the top candidates will be held in early June.

In the search for a new admissions dean, MIT made an offer two to three weeks after that search committee had issued its recommendations, Holmes said. If this pattern holds, a new dean for student life could be chosen as early as June or as late as July.

Benedict was named Dean for Student Life on June 16, 2000, and the appointment was effective two months later, on Aug. 21. The new dean will not have quite so long for a transition, since Benedict is slated to leave at the end of August.

Holmes said that the committee has considered appointing an interim dean for student life in case the new dean cannot begin serving in time to replace Benedict. In 2000, current Vice President for Institute Affairs Kirk D. Kolenbrander filled in as interim dean from June 8 until Benedict’s appointment took effect.

Of the candidates, only a small number come from within MIT — two or three, Holmes said. He said it was important for a student life dean to understand the MIT student culture, to collaborate with students, and to work with administrators to effect change on students’ behalf.

Among the challenges facing a new dean, Holmes said that food was the most prominent problem: dining is “the first disaster that needs to be solved,” he said. If the new dean can improve the way people eat at MIT, he will earn “credibility and capital,” Holmes said.

Holmes also said that his task force on student engagement, an effort to give students a predictable role in Institute decisions, could benefit from a student life dean’s involvement.

If the UA is to be reorganized, as incoming UA president Noah S. Jessop ’09 plans, it might benefit from outside consultants that could be funded by the student life dean, Holmes said.

Benedict came to MIT in 2000 after serving as Johns Hopkins University’s Dean for Student Affairs since 1992. He told The Tech in the fall that after leaving MIT, he plans to retire.

Among the members of the search committee are Steven R. Lerman ’72, dean for graduate education and the committee’s chair; Holmes, UA President; Elizabeth A. Reed, senior associate dean in the office of undergraduate education; John DiFava, director of facilities operations and security, and former MIT police chief; Anne E. C. McCants, professor and head of the history section; and Muriel Medard ’89, associate professor and outgoing Next House housemaster.