MIT officials consider changing housemasters’ title

The Stata Center building at MIT.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File
The Stata Center building at MIT.

It first came up at Harvard University last year, and now the desire to change the term “housemaster” has piqued the interest of campus officials at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For now, this is just a proposal by some who hold the title, and any decision would need the approval of MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.

If the plan advances, MIT students could be calling their superiors “head of house,” a term that’s also used in the whimsical Harry Potter novels and films. A second option is “house dean,” but nothing has been set in stone, officials said.


Housemasters are senior MIT faculty and administrators who oversee student residences and support student needs, according to the school’s website.

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Housemasters discussed the proposal Jan. 19, and they unanimously voted to ask the chancellor for permission to change the title to better reflect their duties.

Simmons Housemaster John Essigmann forwarded to the Globe on Friday an e-mail about the suggested name change he sent to housemasters a day after the meeting.

In the e-mail, Essigmann wrote that interest in ditching the term in favor of a new designation was spurred primarily by the “negative historical connotations associated with” housemaster, including slavery.

“We were all aware of the confusion and feelings of offense that the title has caused outside our community,” Essigmann wrote.


After hosting discussions, surveying students, and filtering through a list of 20 suggested alternatives at the January meeting, two “generic titles” stood out, according to Essigmann: house dean and head of house.

“Both are gender-neutral and avoid words that might cause confusion or offense,” Essigmann said in the e-mail. “These titles also work for both faculty and their spouses/partners, and for senior and associate housemasters. In addition, both titles may be personalized by residence hall.”

Housemasters at Harvard University have been in discussions about changing their titles.

In December, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana told students in an e-mail that residential leaders were unanimous in supporting the name change, largely based on racial sensitivity, though it had been discussed among school officials for some time.

The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Michael Smith, must approve the name change, but Harvard officials said Friday the housemasters are still considering several options for a new title.

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.