Random will seek new housemaster

Well-liked Davis-Millis announces she will leave, reflecting on tenure

Nina Davis-Millis, Random Hall’s housemaster, announced Monday that she and her husband, Chris Millis, will be leaving the dorm at the end of this academic year. Davis-Millis, who has been housemaster at Random for more than two decades, is also Director of Community Support and Staff Development at MIT Libraries. In an email to the dorm, she called her experience at Random “amazing” and “transformative.”

She said that she and her husband were leaving because they’re “just ready.” She said that she still loves Random, and called this a “bittersweet moment.”

The couple has bought a house in Weymouth, about a half-hour’s drive south of MIT, and will be moving there next summer. When asked if the move was because she wanted a “change of pace,” Davis-Millis mentioned that, at 61, she would like “more leisure” and to “cut back to just one job.”

Davis-Millis became housemaster of Random in 1995. Her son, a “smart, quirky” kid, was about to enter kindergarten at the time, and he didn’t fit in well in their neighborhood in Dorchester, where Davis-Millis and her husband lived. “What better place than an MIT dorm” to find a community, she recalled thinking. So she and her husband went through an interview process and were selected. She said that one of the students asked what she and her husband would do if they heard a scream at 2:30 a.m. “That depends on the scream,” her husband replied.

“I thought that was a great answer, and so, apparently, did Random Hall,” Davis-Millis said.

She said that Random Hall has changed her in many ways. Living among engineers “has been really revelatory” for her. She has come to appreciate the engineering mindset, which she describes as “seeing the world not just as this mysterious state that happens” but instead like “a series of problems that can be broken down and solved.” She also described the joy she has come to find in diversity, not only that of different nationalities and backgrounds, but of different ways of thinking. She said it has been “thrilling” to help build a community that “really gets behind exploring and celebrating our differences.”

Next semester, there will be a search for a new housemaster. The search committee will be chaired by another housemaster, most likely one from an east campus dorm, and will include Senior Associate Dean for Student Life Henry J. Humphreys, Random Residential Life Area Director Michael Barcelo, two students (usually president and vice president of the dorm), one Graduate Resident Tutor, and other MIT faculty members.

Candidates approved by the search committee will be brought to the dorm so residents will have the opportunity to interview them. In a dorm-wide meeting held Monday night, Davis-Millis encouraged residents to approach their favorite faculty members about the housemaster opportunity. While housemasters are typically tenured professors, Davis-Millis indicated that the Random housemaster position may be open to non-tenured faculty as well: Random’s small size and its limited accommodations might make it more difficult to convince people to apply for the job. In addition, non-tenured faculty may have more time to devote to students in the dorm.

Davis-Millis said she doesn’t think she will be able to resist giving advice to the future housemasters of Random, even if they don’t want it.

When asked about her favorite stories, she told one about the day her family’s collie had to be put down. Her son, then a junior in high school, was very upset, and wanted to clear his mind by running on the treadmill. The treadmill, however, required a key in order to operate, and the key had to be checked out from desk, which was closed at the time. Davis-Millis ran “frantically” around the building, and finally found a desk worker. The student happened to be an International Math Olympiad competitor, and Davis-Millis, who admitted she is slightly math-phobic, had always been in awe of him. She was crying, and said, “I’m so embarrassed to be so emotionally dependent on an animal.”

And the student said, “I wouldn’t be embarrassed. We all depend on each other all the time.”

She said she thought to herself: “You know, that’s it. That’s really it. I’m in a place with these mathematicians whose work I don’t understand, but damn, if there’s one thing we all know, it’s that we do all depend on each other all the time, dying collies, and treadmills, and all.”

Davis-Millis is beloved by Random residents. At least a third of the residents showed up for the meeting on Monday night. She assured a somber community that “it’s gonna be fine.” Near the end, she called for last questions, and Random Co-President Taylor S. Sutton ’17 raised his hand.

“You have a question, Taylor?”

He walked over and hugged Davis-Millis. “That’s what I was hoping it would be,” she said.