Professor Rosalind H. Williams announced last week that she will step down in June after five years as Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education.
"It's been five years and that's what I always had in mind," said Dean Williams in an interview Monday. The Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing added, "If you're an academic, you can't be out of academia too long. There are two books I want to work on. That, and the dean's hectic schedule and the consequent wear and tear on my family convinced me that the time was right to make a change."
Dean Williams, reflecting on the changes since September 1995, said President Charles Vest's idea to consolidate student services and reorganize the Dean's Office was "so important and so positive."
The Dean's Office was reorganized in 1996, adding Admissions, Athletics, the Bursar's Office, the Campus Activities Complex, Career Services and Preprofessional Advising, Housing and Food Services, Financial Aid, Housing, the MIT Card Office and the Registrar's Office. The reorganized structure comprises the Offices of Academic Services, Admissions, Athletics, Campus Activities Complex and Campus Dining, Career Services and Preprofessional Advising, Counseling and Support Services, Minority Education, MIT Card, ODSUE Information Technology, Residential Life and Student Programs, Student Financial Services and the Student Services Center, which was established in Building 11 as a one-stop office where students could get all their forms, paperwork and other business done.
"We now have a small, lean, centralized leadership team, including a fund-raising component, which this office never had before," Dean Williams said. "Now, in one office, we have people who think about what we should be doing in the whole area of student life and learning, and we have people who implement those priorities. We have a very close working relationship with the Chancellor and the Committee on the Undergraduate Program. We are just on the threshold of some significant academic initiatives.
"We are focused much more on student life and learning," she continued. "The single most important change in the past five years was for MIT as an institution to see campus life as part of education, not something that happens across the street after classes. We redefined orientation as part of academics, not simply residential life," she said, noting that the tragic alcohol-related death of Scott Krueger in 1997 played a role in changing residential life at MIT.
President Vest commented, "Rosalind Williams's tenure as dean has been a high point in the ongoing evolution of MIT. She has redefined and strengthened the sense of mission of ODSUE. She has forged a single organization dedicated to integrating student life and learning. Her development of the innovative Student Services Center exemplifies the kind of efficiency and customer orientation that we must strive to bring to our student transactions.
"She has worked hard to shepherd the communications requirement through the faculty, and has enhanced the role of the MacVicar Fellows in the life of MIT. She has faced daunting human tragedies and social problems with courage, openness and honesty while under intense public scrutiny. I am grateful for her enormous service in this role and will miss her voice at the Academic Council table as well as in ODSUE. MIT is much stronger and more humane for her years in this position," Dr. Vest said.
Said Chancellor Lawrence Bacow, "Roz Williams has been a passionate and articulate voice for undergraduate education during her term as dean. Through her work in setting up the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, she has focused the Institute's attention on the importance of integrating residential, co-curricular and educational life on our campus. She has streamlined the office, brought better services to students, helped rethink how we teach communications to our undergraduates, and launched the planning and design of MIT's first new undergraduate residence in over 20 years. She has also been a truly wonderful colleague. I will miss her."
Reflecting on the last five years, Dean Williams noted that vast changes in communications have occurred. Five years ago, before the Dean's Office began "going electronic," few of the offices had a web page. Now student services are transparent, and information is available around the clock.
"The information revolution is fully engaging the humanities at MIT in a way no one could have predicted. Indeed, in some areas, like communications and pedagogy, it is giving humanities a leadership role. So it's an exciting time to be returning to the School of Humanities and Social Science," she said.
Personally, she said, the high point of every year has been Commencement. "As dean, I get to lead the students into Killian Court. It's such a rush, it's such a thrill. The weather has been beautiful, and walking in with the students, their families and the alumni/ae -- it's been the high point, year after year."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 12, 2000.