Faculty Residents / Housemasters / Heads of House

They were the ultimate “adult supervision” in the dorm.

They fed us non-commons food, which was always a welcome change from the stuff in the dining hall…

And we knew — deep down — that they would help get us out of a jam if we did something really, really stupid…

The Tech (DECEMBER 20, 1957)

The main topic of discussion in House Committees of Burton and Baker House on Wednesday, December 18, 1957 was the newly proposed Housemaster plan. Judson James '59 explained the plan to the members of the Baker House Committee while Lewis Cohen '58 explained the plan to the Burton House Committee. Because of the infant state of the plan not much discussion followed. Baker House Committee intends to invite some member of the faculty, who knows about the plan, to come and explain it further and in detail.

from the 1987 Report of the Housemaster-Tutor Program Review Committee:

In his “Memorandum on House Master System” dated January 1953, Frederick Fassett, Jr., after completing a one-and-one-half-year stint as Faculty resident in Baker House writes:

“I am convinced that we need for each group of roughly 300 students a stronger focal point of mature responsibility and guidance and that all but the inevitable fanatic fringe among undergraduates realize this fact. The present system is a practical step in the right direction, but only a partial step. I think we need no longer be worried over the connotations of the term “Master”; the time has to proceed from the appendage status of the Faculty Resident to the leadership status of the Master of the House.”

Dean Fassett's specific qualifications for the Housemaster, his wife and children, as well as his vision for the need of graduate residents, offer additional and somewhat wry insights into the initial intent of the program:

“The post of Master should, I believe, be held by a mature married man without young children, in good physical trim, armed with a wife who is sympathetic toward youth, vigorous in health and optimistic in disposition. In terms of teaching load and other responsibilities, it should be regarded as from one-third to one-half of a full undertaking. Consideration should be given in years to come to the possibility of accommodating in each unit two or three carefully chosen graduate teaching assistants to carry part of the task of general counseling and guidance not to serve as proctors.”

‘Head of house’ to replace ‘housemaster’ title
The Tech (Apr. 28, 2016)
By Sanjana Srivastava

The “housemaster” title was changed to “head of house” yesterday after several housemasters requested a new title in January.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said that the now-heads of house felt that the term was “gendered, carrie[d] negative historical connotations, and ha[d] created confusion and feelings of offense outside our community.”

“Head of house” was chosen over popular alternatives such as “house dean,” “house maven,” and “Dumbledore,” striking a balance between professionalism and Harry Potter nostalgia.

Students cited gender-neutrality as a pro, and believed that “head of house” was more inclusive of non-faculty spouses and partners than “Housemaster,” Barnhart said in an email to undergraduate and graduate housemasters.

Barnhart asked an ad-hoc group of faculty and staff to recommend action on the new title, and they agreed that “head of house” does not carry the “gendered and colonial baggage” that “housemaster” does.

They also said that “this change is consistent with our ongoing self-review and efforts to use language that reflects the MIT of today, not yesterday,” while simultaneously celebrating the new title’s “rich heritage in the English education system.”

Barnhart believes that “it will take time for ‘Head of House’ to become part of our daily lexicon,” but wants the community to use it and its informal variations (such as “Head of Ashdown House”) as much as possible.

She said that updates to websites and paperwork would begin during the remainder of the semester.

The Tech will continue to recognize both terms and will use the new term to the extent it is adopted in the community.

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