Student Support Services Under Evaluation by New Task Force

A task force has been charged with reviewing Student Support Services, and it will turn in a report to Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 within the next few weeks.

Student Support Services helps students who are struggling or who have been ill deal with professors and administrators. Clay and faculty chair Thomas A. Kochan established the task force to evaluate the role of the department. The task force will also review how S^3 coordinates with other departments like MIT Medical and the Committee on Academic Performance.

The committee is co-chaired by Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science head William E. Grimson and Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman. Two students, Elizabeth A. Denys ’11 and Ying Zhang G, also serve on the committee.

In June, many faculty and administrators expressed concern after Dean of Student Life Chris Colombo demoted S^3 and laid off well-liked S^3 Associate Dean and Co-Director Jacqueline Simonis.

While the outcry may have motivated the creation of the S^3 review task force, Clay said the department had already been marked for review before any of layoffs took place.

“This was not to suggest that S^3 was not doing a good job,” Clay wrote in the September/October Faculty Newsletter. “The office has enjoyed strong support from faculty and students. The concerns called out missed opportunities for student support and differing views about S^3’s scope, reporting arrangements, and the coordination of its services with other units.”

Denys said the task force will have several issues to resolve.

First, the they will have to figure out which department S^3 goes under, and to whom it will report. In 2000, the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education split into the Division of Student Life and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education. While Student Support Services was placed officially under the new Division for Student Life, it continued to support students in handling academic issues and serve some functions technically allocated to the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education. For instance, it had the power to change transcripts when excusing absences.

Other topics of inquiry include S^3’s work with graduate students and the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education.

The task force will not address any concerns related to specific personnel or any budgetary line items, said Denys. The report is due to the Chancellor’s office, but the committee is pushing for some of the less sensitive parts to be public, Denys said.

In its research, representatives of the committee met with Simonis, every dean currently working in S^3, and other relevant members of the MIT community, including Senior Associate Dean for Students Barbara A. Baker, to whom S^3 currently reports.

Summer changes

Simonis was one of 18 Division of Student Life employees laid off by Colombo as part of the budget cuts. Faculty were especially upset to see her go, because they felt she had played a central role in S^3.

Colombo had also lowered S^3’s rank within the Division of Student life, to the objection of many faculty, who worried that would damage S^3’s ability to serve students.

“Many faculty members were concerned that if S^3 were brought lower down in the reporting structure it will be seen as a less important unit within MIT,” said Denys.

Changes to the S^3 reporting structure and services were rolled back in response to faculty complaints. All layoffs remained permanent.