Give the chancellor a break
Former student leaders reflect on Barnhart’s accomplishments
Since her appointment as Chancellor in February 2014, Cynthia Barnhart, PhD ’88 has overseen a variety of changes for student life on campus. Recent actions regarding Senior Haus have proven unpopular with some of the student body. However, Chancellor Barnhart has taken, at her own risk, unprecedented steps towards including students in the decision-making process at MIT over the past three years.
One such remarkable moment came with the appointment of Vice President Suzy Nelson. From the beginning of the process, students were invited to contribute to transparent selection of a new Student Life Dean. To do so, the Chancellor’s Office reached out to the UA, Panhel, IFC, and DormCon to appoint student representatives to the Search Committee. These students were entrusted with extremely confidential personal and career information about student life professionals at MIT and around the world. For the next year, these representatives solicited feedback from their peers, read countless resumes, organized feedback forums amongst students, and helped make the final offer to VP Nelson.
Another initiative where the Chancellor sought student participation in a large, unprecedented manner was through Mind Hand Heart. In response to student concerns voiced through MIT Confessions and in-person meetings, the Chancellor championed mental health and student wellbeing on campus. Mind Hand Heart’s many working groups, heavily populated with students, led to an improved Student Leave Policy, a new Good Samaritan Policy, and a focus on using student input to drive change. The Chancellor’s Office has also single-handedly funded many student-initiated and student-led efforts that enable access to mental and physical health resources, in addition to the Mind Hand Heart Initiative’s Innovation Fund. The Chancellor’s decision to take a multifaceted, grassroots approach to the challenges of mental health and physical wellbeing is singularly remarkable in MIT’s history, and is evidence of her desire to involve students in critical areas of their MIT experience.
We should be thankful to have a Chancellor as hands-on, approachable, and caring as Cynthia Barnhart. It is important to realize how much progress has been made in the past three years. If there are concerns about her level of engagement with students, we should recognize that her record has demonstrated her commitment to improving and increasing lines of communication. Instead of criticizing the person behind the decision, we should recognize that the Chancellor wants to engage students in decisions, and help her impact positive change.
If we are to make our community the best it can be, we must learn to trust each other. Part of building that trust is to recognize when we are in disagreement, and work together to resolve it. This requires us to be a little vulnerable; it requires us to believe that the other party has our best interests in mind; and it requires us to take a leap of faith, in the absence of all the information, and work with someone else. Our experiences working with Chancellor Barnhart have shown us that she is worthy of our trust, and is an extraordinary partner in advancing the interests of students. We encourage, and hope, other members of the MIT community will take the opportunity to discover this for themselves.
Matthew Davis ’16, Undergraduate Association President 2016
David Dellal ’17, Interfraternity Council President 2016
Sophia Liu ’17, Undergraduate Association President 2017
Caitlyn Mason ’17, Panhellenic Association President 2016
Taylor Rose ’16, Panhellenic Association President 2015