Dean of Engineering explains his decision to step down

Ian Waitz leaves “with mixed emotions”

Ian Waitz, dean of the School of Engineering, announced in a Feb. 14 email to the school community that he will step down from the position June 30. In an interview with The Tech, he discussed the ups and downs of his time at the school, along with his plans for the future.

While Waitz said that leaving is something he does “with mixed emotions,” he believes his decision to step down will bring new energy and ideas to the office.

“I made a table when I started,” he said, where he kept a list of the tasks he wanted to accomplish, and graded himself on his progress for each task using the colors red, yellow, and green. Waitz based his decision to leave the office on his evaluation that many of his plans have come to fruition, while the few left might be better solved by a successor.

“You would like to think that you’re irreplaceable,” he said, but he feels the trade-off between his experience and the ingenuity of a new dean has shifted in favor of hiring a replacement.

Waitz also cited his waning fervor for the position as a reason for stepping down. Instead of dealing with the big issues he enjoys most, he must spend a large portion of his time dealing with common jobs like hearing promotion cases and awarding fellowships.

“It can be relentless in terms of the things you have to do,” he said, noting that the tasks become repetitive. “There’s more days where you’re not as enthusiastic about it, because you’ve just sort of done it.” He noted that his work takes away time with his family, up to seven days a week.

Despite the drawbacks of the dean position, Waitz said “it’s got to be the best job in the world,” emphasizing the people he has gotten to work with as a highlight of the job.

Waitz divided his proudest accomplishments into the categories of student-focused and management-focused. For students, he listed the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program as one of his favorite programs established during his term, saying that he was “wildly enthusiastic” about the “inspiring” ideas that have come out of the project.

On the management side, he said that he is most pleased with how he has made school administrative operations more “open, transparent, and collaborative.” For example, he began providing slides to the school administration with his decisions and the rationale behind them. He compared this work to the blocking and tackling done by football linemen, which is often overshadowed by the feats of other players, but plays a pivotal role in the sport.  

There is still room for the school to grow in many places, Waitz said, saying that it should focus on “really significant education innovation.”

“It’s hard to take a big ship that’s been operating for 150 years, largely on one educational model, and shift it,” he said. He suggested placing a bigger emphasis on online education as a way to modernize the education MIT offers to students.

Waitz said that the MIT administration has huge opportunities to give students an outstanding freshman experience, calling the year the “defining entryway to MIT,” and that he would like to see the School of Engineering implement a school-wide degree for students who would prefer a broader program than the ones currently offered by the school’s departments.

As for his own future, Waitz said that the “job is all consuming when you’re in it,” and that he has not even had time to think about what comes next. Though he won’t decide until he has “had some time to decompress,” he said that he will ideally remain at MIT, having worked here for 26 years.

On Monday, Provost Martin Schmidt announced the committee, chaired by Professor Krystyn Van Vliet Ph.D. ’02 of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, which will search for Waitz’s replacement.