After 27 years at MIT, Senior Associate Dean Robert Randolph will step into a new role as Institute chaplain in January 2007 armed with a list of goals and hopes for the future of MIT's religious life.
His new role will be an interesting challenge, one that will combine what he most enjoyed in his role as dean--forming relationships with students and dealing with crises--with his personal and professional interest in religion as an ordained Protestant minister. Prior to coming to MIT in 1979, Randolph served as chaplain at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley.
Randolph has also served as housemaster of MIT's Bexley Hall for the past seven years with his wife, Jan.
In the 1980s, "religion was not seen as a hot topic," Randolph said. Over the years that attitude has changed, but to Randolph, it is attitude, not the reality, that has changed. "It has always been clear to me that religious life has been an important part of many students' lives," he said.
Since coming to MIT, Randolph has worked extensively with each of MIT's many religious communities. "I have been their point of communication with the Institute for 25 years," he said.
In the past, each chaplain has had space at the Institute, but they have reported to their sending organization. In his new role, Randolph will give a public face to the chaplaincy, which will have "a bigger and more public role," he said. "This will offer the chaplains some institutional support."
Randolph said he has always heard administrators talk of the kind of diversity that is ever-present in MIT's religious community. "In a quiet way, the religious community models the diversity MIT is seeking," he said.
In his new role, Randolph plans to tap into that diversity and host more interfaith events and conversations. He hopes to spur dialogue and promote greater understanding among the many faiths represented at MIT. "I hope in the long run we will see more programs that encourage expression and interfaith conversation," he said.
The new role fits well with the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons' recent recommendations for major changes to MIT's undergraduate education. With a focus on diversity and experiences abroad, the task force's recommendations line up perfectly with Randolph's vision for religious life at MIT.
Randolph's goals for the position include developing a protocol for the way memorial services are handled on campus. "There should be an official plan in place," Randolph said, one that "gives people a point at which to begin planning." He also wants to give attention to matters of morality on campus, both academic and personal.
"We owe it to one another to think seriously about what honesty means and what integrity looks like," Randolph said. He hopes to engage the entire community by establishing a board of advisers that includes students, faculty and staff who might collectively serve as a resource and guide for new programming. "The challenge to me is to reach out and give structure," he said.
For his colleagues who have worked with him over the years, there is no doubt Randolph is up to the challenge. "I am delighted that Bob Randolph has agreed to officially become the MIT chaplain," said Larry Benedict, the dean of student life at MIT. "For most of his 27 years at MIT Bob has played this role with dedication, loyalty, care and sensitivity, and the title MIT chaplain reflects this."
"This role will be a capstone to his distinguished career at MIT and will build on his charisma and skills as a minister. I can think of no finer individual to be our chaplain," Benedict said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 2006 (download PDF).