What do students want in a pres.?

Advisory group says experience, connections, approachability

On April 6, the Student Advisory Committee to the Presidential Search released their preliminary report, entitled “The Student Perspective on the MIT Presidency.” Drawing upon the responses they received from six town hall meetings, each of which were attended by between 10 and 60 people, as well as hundreds of student responses from online forms, paper questionnaires, focus groups, and informal discussions, the SAC described in their 20-page report what they found to be the most important challenges, desires, and concerns of MIT. This preliminary report does not contain the list of candidates that the SAC would like to nominate.

Bryan Owens Bryson G, a graduate student on the Student Advisory Committee, wrote in an email, “Each forum consisted of a presentation by the committee about the search process and the student committee’s role in the process. Later in the presentation, we described the job functions of the president and the structure of the MIT administration. After the presentation, the committee presented some general discussion questions and smaller subgroups discussed the questions, and these smaller subgroups had a student facilitator to keep the conversation going.”

A few of the issues mentioned in the report are not necessarily specific to MIT, including students’ desires for increased interaction with faculty, better quality of teaching, and the opportunity to have input in important Institute decisions. The report offers some vague suggestions as to how to act upon these concerns. For instance, the students voiced an “urgent need to develop certain metrics for evaluating and rewarding good educators” beyond how successful professors are in their research, and advocate that any extra efforts that professors make to be more accessible to students “should be encouraged and appreciated through the right incentives from MIT regarding promotion and salary.” The report also mentions that students want more recognition for entrepreneurship as a form of academic achievement.

More of the concerns and student opinions presented revolved around issues unique to the Institute, including student health and wellness, MITx, MIT 2030, and the future of MIT as a global leader. According to the report, students have found that the restructuring of Student Support Services combined with a “common perception of inefficacy and bureaucracy” has decreased the usefulness of the service, and report that MIT Mental Health often takes too long to respond to more immediate requests for help.

In terms of MITx, students “are concerned with preserving the relevance of a physical campus with the increase in online learning initiatives” and emphasize the importance of a residential-based education. In this same vein, students would like to see improvement of MIT’s physical campus. The SAC mentioned the lack of public community spaces available for students to host activities and interact with each other. Graduate students in particular are interested in having a separate space “that promotes interaction between graduate students across disciplinary boundaries as well as between students and faculty.”

Additionally, the report notes that there is a need for improvement of the “academic infrastructure” around MIT — for example, more places to eat and relax, and the improvement of central community spaces such as the Student Center. In terms of growth, the report also addressed an interest in expanding internationally, suggesting that MIT could consider developing campuses abroad, partnering with international institutions in dual-degree programs, and creating more study abroad programs.

The last three pages of the report summarize the qualities that MIT students want the most in their president. Personality-wise, students want the president to have every positive trait one can think of, with a focus on “an experienced leader that is personable and understanding.” Students believe that the president should have experience with managing a large budget, selecting good administrators, fundraising, research, and international relations. Students prefer a president who has connections, if not professional experience, in government and corporate leadership. Finally, the president has to advocate STEM fields nationally and internationally, be visible and approachable to students, and apply the values of MIT to create a vision for the Institute.

According to Bryson, the SAC is now incorporating student feedback to this report into a final document that will be posted online, and they are using the qualifications outlined by the report to identify potential presidential candidates that they will later bring to the Corporation.

A full text of the report can be found at