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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Accreditation

2009 Accreditation Report

Institutional Self-Study

1. Mission and Purposes

The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.

The Institute is committed to generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, and to working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world's great challenges. MIT is dedicated to providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community. We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.
        — MIT mission statement

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted its first students in 1865, four years after the approval of its founding charter. The opening of the Institute capped an extended effort by William Barton Rogers, a distinguished natural scientist, to establish a new kind of independent educational institution relevant to an increasingly industrialized America. Rogers stressed the pragmatic and the practical. He believed that professional competence is best fostered by coupling teaching and research and by focusing attention on real-world problems. This synthesis of the intellectual and the practical epitomizes MIT's educational philosophy and is succinctly captured in our motto, mens et manus—mind and hand.

Beyond the merely practical, Rogers espoused a sense of moral responsibility and dedication to service. Recognizing that technological innovation had yielded powerful new weapons, Rogers advocated for MIT alumni to "take the lead in helping society guide technology toward its more beneficial applications.... Consequently, a profound ethical imperative has been deeply imbedded in the identity of the Institute from its founding." 1  Additionally, Rogers believed in the importance of providing a balanced education that would combine professional preparation with a liberal education.

MIT has reexamined its mission several times to ensure its continued resonance with the needs of the Institute community. The first reassessment came in 1949 with the Report of the Committee on Educational Survey, commonly known as the Lewis Committee Report. 2  The report reaffirmed the principles set forth by William Barton Rogers and added several others: the value of education as preparation for life; a focus on fundamentals; the belief that MIT should pursue excellence within a specialized domain; and the importance of a unified Institute-wide faculty. Perhaps most important, the Lewis Committee Report recognized that MIT must provide an "education for life." It recommended expanding beyond the confines of science and engineering and creating our present-day School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

MIT's next major assessment of its mission and purposes coincided with its 10-year accreditation in 1998. The work of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning helped further refine and articulate the Institute's guiding principles. 3  These principles include an integrated triad of academics, research, and community; the shared passion among students and faculty for intensity, curiosity, and excitement; and the importance of intellectual and personal diversity among members of the MIT community. The work of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning provided the foundation for our current mission statement, which appears at the beginning of this chapter and was approved by the Executive Committee of the Corporation, our governing board, in September 1999.

Beginning in 2003, MIT revisited its mission once again, through the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons. Given that the relevance of science in everyday life has increased, the Task Force reexamined the Institute's guiding principles within the context of modern society. It concluded that "an MIT education is one grounded in science and technology that ignites a passion for learning, provides the intellectual and personal foundations for future development, and illuminates the breadth, depth, and diversity of human knowledge and experience, in order to enable each student to develop a coherent intellectual identity. Collectively, such students can lead the world in developing technologies creatively and using their talents to improve the state of the natural world and humankind." 4  These findings reinforce our mission statement and demonstrate that MIT's founding principles remain fully intact as we approach our 150th birthday.

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Projections

The Institute's mission animates our research—research that leads to breakthroughs such as implantable wafers that have revolutionized cancer treatment, or the daring, real-world analyses and prescriptions of our Jameel Poverty Action Lab. Our mission is the spirit behind the Laboratory for Sustainable Business at MIT Sloan, and it drives all the Institute's efforts to design and engineer realistic, affordable green cities around the world. Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the commitment to our mission than the interest of the MIT community in finding solutions to the seemingly intractable problem of world energy. More than 70 subjects offered across all five MIT schools have a substantive connection to energy issues, and in the fall of 2009, we will launch a new minor in energy. In recent years, student interest in energy has expanded dramatically, spawning a rich array of student-driven projects, groups, and coordinated activities. The student-founded and student-led MIT Energy Club now has over 1,500 members and hosts what has been called the most high-profile energy conference in the country.

These are just a few examples of how the Institute's emphasis on academics, research, and community serves our goal of finding practical solutions to the world's most challenging problems. Our curriculum and vision for student life and learning are profoundly influenced by our guiding principles, including the centrality of science and technology, the need for practical hands-on learning, the excitement of discovery, a tradition of service to the nation and the world, and the importance of a diverse community. All of these ideas are central themes in the report that follows, for MIT's mission defines our distinctive character and reflects both our traditions and our vision for the future.

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Footnotes

MIT, Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons (October 2006), p. 12. The report is available in the accreditation team room and at http://web.mit.edu/committees/edcommons/documents/task_force_report.html.
The report, published in December 1949, is available in the accreditation team room and at http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/mithistory/pdf/lewis.pdf.
The Report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning (September 1998) is available in the accreditation team room and at http://web.mit.edu/committees/sll/tf.html.
MIT, Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons (October 2006), p. 19.