Student Support Services Task Force Report Recommends More Staff

Student Support Services (S^3) should consider adding staff, deciding what support, if any, to provide to graduate students, and defining clearly its services and confidentiality policy, a task force charged with evaluating the unit recommended in its final report.

So far, the report has resulted in two concrete plans for change: S^3 will soon report to Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education instead the Division of Student Life, where it currently reports, while the Division of Student Life will continue to work with S^3 on student life-related issues. Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, to whom the report was issued, will also create a faculty advisory committee to try to strengthen the connection between S^3 and the MIT faculty and to discuss and oversee the implementation of other recommendations in the task force report. Many of these recommendations call for clarification of specific procedures and policies related to S^3 — many of which are not currently formally delineated — including the processes for readmission to MIT and excusing “absence” grades on transcripts, as well as the policy on confidentiality of students’ cases.

Behind the suggestion that S^3 evaluate its current staff level, the task force noted that S^3 now receives about 3,900 visits from students each year and the number of deans on staff right now — five — may not be enough to adequately support students. Students without urgent cases must often wait over a week to meet with a dean, according to the report.

The task force was charged by Clay in August 2009 with the task of reviewing and evaluating S^3’s role at MIT: how it works with students and interfaces with other organizations within MIT, such as MIT Medical and the Committee on Academic Performance, to achieve its goals.

Its creation was prompted, in part, by a uproar among faculty over the sudden release of former S^3 dean Jacqueline Simonis, who had worked at MIT for 23 years and contributed significantly to the development of S^3 as an organization. Faculty had not been consulted with prior to Simonis’s layoff. However, the task force was not asked to address specific personnel issues in its discussions and therefore did not address any issues related to Simonis’s release in its final report.

To accomplish its work, the task force interviewed all S^3 staff members, representatives of many other MIT units that interact with S^3, and other MIT community members who could offer insight, including Simonis. The group was chaired by EECS Department head W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 and Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman. Two students, Elizabeth A. Denys ’11 and Ying Zhang G, also served on the committee.

—Natasha Plotkin