Priorities for the Next Year

Denny Freeman, Dean for Undergraduate Education

Denny FreemanI am very happy to have taken on the role of Dean in DUE. I have spent the last two months getting a more detailed understanding of the scope of the DUE offices and programs as well as their priorities.  As a faculty member, I have always had a keen interest in undergraduate education and served on several undergraduate-focused faculty committees. While this provided an exposure to DUE, my recent immersion has given me an appreciation of the breadth, depth, and complexity of the work undertaken by our organization. My crash course in DUE this summer also helped inform my thinking around priorities for the next year.

This is a very exciting time to work in undergraduate education.  We are considering “The Future of MIT Education” and what we should be doing that is different from the past. We are talking about online education, flipped classrooms and defining a new vision for the residential experience. At the same time, the world and workplace our students are entering have changed and so has the necessary preparation.  It is much less about learning specific content and more about being able to move within context.

It is also a challenging time for undergraduate education. With student debt and college tuition still soaring, we find ourselves under increasing scrutiny, which will only increase.  We will be asked to judge ourselves in ways we’ve never done before. Also, the recent Supreme Court decision in Fischer vs. Texas may not require immediate action, but we need to develop and articulate why we think diversity is an important educational goal and what exactly is the role of race in admissions.

Ultimately, it is still about the students and creating a learning environment and learning opportunities that prepare them as innovators, leaders and life-long learners. I am concerned about the high level of stress which our students experience. We need to make understanding and addressing student stress an action item.  We also need to leverage the recent successful recruitment of faculty freshmen advisors as part of an overall effort to enhance the freshman year for our students. We need to not only help students transition to MIT, but also provide meaningful learning opportunities that connect them with faculty and help them explore their interests.

With this backdrop, I see the following as key DUE priorities for the next year:

  • Enhancing the freshman year, including creating opportunities such as freshman projects, UROPs and UROP-like activities.
  • Leveraging online opportunities to enhance the residential experience.
  • Addressing student stress.
  • Articulating a vision for why diversity matters.
  • Developing better metrics to assess student success.

I will be asking for your help in turning these priorities into real initiatives. This list is a starting point.  My crash course may be over, but I am still learning. I am interested in hearing ideas and suggestions on these topics.

When I became Dean, I had great admiration for DUE. Over the last few months, my admiration for DUE has doubled and tripled!  The work of DUE is central to the educational mission of MIT. I look forward to working with you as we take on the challenges of providing our students with a superb educational experience.

[Editor’s Note: If you would like to know more about Dean Freeman, read his bio on the DUE website.]