Temp Housemasters Picked For Senior House

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Senior House will be getting Jagruti S. Patel ’97 and Antony N. Donovan ’94 as interim housemasters. In May residents had selected Walter R. Bender ’80 and Wanda Bender, but the Dean for Student Life rejected them for as-of-yet undisclosed reasons. The search for permanent housemasters starts over in the fall.
William Yee—The Tech

Senior House residents have picked interim housemasters for the next year, after their choice for permanent housemasters was rejected by Dean of Student Life Chris Colombo in early July. Jagruti S. Patel ’97 and her husband Antony N. Donovan ’94, both Senior House alumni, have been appointed as interim housemasters after a brief search.

Patel and Donovan will stay on for between one and two years according to Emilio T. Jasso ’11, a resident who served on the search committee. The search for permanent housemasters will resume in the fall after students return to campus.

Walter R. Bender ’80 and his wife, Wanda, had been nominated in May, but Colombo did not confirm them immediately, which was unusual. Residents worried that their picks would not go through. In June, desk captain Sarina A. Canelake ’10 organized a petition to Colombo that asked him to hasten his decision. Shortly afterwards, residents learned that Colombo had rejected the Benders.

The Senior House Housemaster search committee and Colombo declined to share why Colombo did not approve of the Benders. One factor may have been that Walter Bender, who helped found the One Laptop Per Child project, is a researcher at the Media Lab and is not tenured faculty. According to Canelake, Dean Colombo’s office told her that all housemasters from now on will have to be tenured faculty members. Currently Random Hall, Bexley, and Next House have housemasters that are not tenured faculty. Colombo himself is the housemaster of Next House.

On July 9, Senior House President Cody R. Daniel ’11 and Colombo met to discuss the issue of appointing housemasters. Daniel shared residents’ concerns that they were not getting a housemaster for the coming academic year, or would have one imposed on them. Ultimately the discussion turned to the possibility of interim housemasters who would temporarily serve Senior House until a tenured faculty member was selected to permanently fill the position. The interim housemaster could be “really anyone — support staff, postdoc, etc.,” Canelake said.

Patel is a senior project manager in the Provost’s Office. Both she and Donovan, her husband, lived in Senior House while they were students.

“We are very happy that Dean Colombo’s office understands that it is important to have someone who knows the house well,” Canelake said. “It is fantastic that we got two alums committed to our community appointed in this capacity.”

In an e-mail, Colombo said “Jag and Antony have agreed to take on this responsibility because of their own close affiliation with the house, and feel they can help serve MIT and the Senior House community in this role as the search continues.”

Jasso said that permanent housemasters might get chosen before the year is out, but the new picks would not get start until after Patel and Donovan had moved out. Patel and Donovan are guaranteed at least a year.

In the fall, the search committee will begin the search for permanent housemasters again. The committee is composed of Senior House students and MIT housemasters. It submits a recommendation to the Dean for Student Life, who then either passes on the names to the President or rejects the committee’s picks.