Professor Emeritus Samuel J. Keyser of linguistics and philosophy has received an interim appointment as special assistant to the president and chancellor -- a position intended to initiate and coordinate activities aimed at changing the campus culture as it pertains to alcohol use.
An advisory committee headed by Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay expects to conclude the search for a permanent incumbent for this position during the spring term.
"Professor Keyser is a deeply dedicated member of the MIT community," President Charles M. Vest said. "He understands the culture of MIT, is an excellent communicator, and is very adept at analyzing issues and building consensus for their resolution. We are fortunate that he is willing to take this on."
Professor Keyser, a former associate provost and housemaster at Senior House, has played a central role in addressing such complex campus issues as discrimination, sexual harassment, and grievances between groups or individuals. He has already initiated informal discussions on alcohol with students and other members of the community.
"The way you change the culture at MIT is to constantly talk about the issues," said Professor Keyser, who has been at the Institute since 1977. "You don't tell anybody they have to do something. You go out front and you talk about it."
The search committee has winnowed down the list of candidates for the permanent position and conducted intensive interviews with four. The committee has forwarded three names to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow and Vice President Kathryn A. Willmore.
In considering candidates, the committee looked for evidence that the person had developed strategies that led to cultural change, preferably in the area of social behavior. They were seeking an excellent communicator and listener who is able to work with students, faculty, staff, parents and the community.
The search committee suggested that an interim appointment be made since the permanent position is not likely to be filled until spring and the appointee may not be on campus until summer or next fall.
"I will start the process and bring the permanent appointee up to speed when he or she arrives," said Professor Keyser. "I know something about the institution, the people and the issues and may be able to assure a smooth transition."
Candidates were solicited from hundreds of contacts across the nation, among them college and university deans, executives in private companies, health educators, physicians and others.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 27, 1999.