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Massachusetts Institute of Technology


2009 Accreditation Report

Institutional Self-Study

2. Planning and Evaluation

MIT integrates multiple layers of planning and evaluation activity into its governance model and performs them at the department, school, and Institute levels. These efforts are continuous rather than periodic. In addition to an annual assessment of resource needs, each department undergoes a biannual evaluation by a visiting committee of our governing body that examines the academic program and issues of student learning. At the same time, many cross-department committees, councils, and groups are charged with evaluating policies and programs throughout MIT. In recent years, MIT has increasingly focused on fully integrating its financial and academic planning efforts, and coordinating them with Institute-wide initiatives.

This ongoing planning involves bold, innovative thinking and takes place in both good times and challenging ones. Through continual efforts to assess programs, strengthen operations, and coordinate financial and academic planning, the Institute has been able to approach the current global financial crisis from a position of relative strength. Although no one can fully predict how the economy will affect MIT and higher education in the months and years ahead, the Institute is taking steps to reduce spending, while protecting and fostering the creative, dynamic, and stimulating environment that defines us. To this end, MIT has launched an Institute-wide Planning Task Force to assess how best to develop strategies and practices to align the Institute's human and financial resources with its mission.

This chapter examines planning and evaluation efforts at the department level, highlights initiatives that draw from work across the Institute, and describes the data-driven nature of MIT's evaluation processes. It concludes with MIT's response to new fiscal constraints and our efforts to make the Institute stronger, more efficient, and more effective.

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Planning and resource allocation

MIT is organized into departments, sections, and programs, which are housed within its five schools: Architecture and Planning; Engineering; Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; MIT Sloan; and Science. 5  MIT's core academic-planning exercise requires each academic department to define short- to medium-term resource needs by producing an annual budget document. The information contained in these department documents is usually data-driven and reflects the priorities of faculty constituents who represent each of MIT's academic disciplines. These documents are reviewed and prioritized by each academic dean and then combined into a comprehensive, prioritized school budget plan. This plan, in turn, is submitted to the provost, who determines annual academic budget allocations based on school and Institute priorities and available resources. (Institute-wide resource allocations are determined in the context of the financial framework, outlined in Chapter 9, "Financial Resources.") In addition to this budgeting process, departments make critical evaluations of their achievements on an annual basis; these assessments are communicated to the provost via the school deans.

As one of its guiding principles, the Institute is committed to supporting those academic departments, research laboratories, and centers having the greatest intellectual promise, and those administrative areas whose operational effectiveness can benefit most from Institute resources. Thanks to historically strong programs coupled with ongoing relationships with alumni, industry, and other external donors, many of the academic and research units have developed extensive financial resources, both endowed and expendable. These resources often supplement general Institute funds, giving units a diversified funding base. The ability to raise outside resources, including sponsored-research funds directed to specific projects as well as less-restricted philanthropic gifts, can serve as an indicator of the success of a particular activity. Activities identified as successful may merit additional Institute financial support and/or allocations of space. In this way, individual units work in partnership with the central administration to place the most promising activities at the center of the Institute's long-term planning strategies.

For the most part, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory planning process proceeds independently from campus-based planning efforts. Largely funded by the Department of Defense, Lincoln Laboratory is subject to rigorous budget- and personnel-planning requirements that form the basis for regular program reviews. The government oversight committee that controls the funding for the Laboratory's research and development programs conducts the program reviews. The MIT associate provost and vice president for research has responsibility for general oversight of Lincoln Laboratory and participates in regular meetings of the lab's Steering Committee and in an annual planning retreat. In addition, a Lincoln Laboratory Advisory Board—appointed by the provost and consisting of outside representatives from industry and academia, former military personnel, and MIT faculty—meets semiannually to review and provide advice on strategic plans and directions.

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Visiting committees

Since their establishment in 1875, visiting committees have influenced the course of education and research at MIT. Operating as advisory groups to the Institute's governing board, the MIT Corporation, the committees provide appraisal, advice, and insight about each academic department and other activities of the Institute. Members help to maintain a close relationship between academic procedure and professional practice, while providing expert commentary on current and proposed departmental programs. Through interviews with the visiting committees, faculty and students participate in this facet of Institute governance. The visiting committees provide regular, substantive and highly valued program reviews.

Approximately 400 distinguished scientists, engineers, scholars, entrepreneurs, executives, and educators serve on the Institute's 30 visiting committees. Each committee is approved by the Corporation and typically includes five Corporation members appointed by the chairman of the Corporation, one of whom chairs the committee; six alumni/ae nominated by the Association of Alumni and Alumnae's Committee on Nominations for the Corporation Visiting Committees; and six members nominated by the president of MIT.

Committees meet on campus once every two years. Most committees convene for a day and a half of discussions, followed by a final half-day session to provide feedback to the president, provost, chair of the Corporation, and other senior administration. Each committee chair prepares a written report that is distributed to the Corporation, senior administration, and the department head. Copies of these reports may be found in the accreditation team room; they contain considerable contextual data, including statistics on faculty tenure, underrepresented faculty and students, enrollments, research expenditures, and departmental funding. After the written report has been approved by the Executive Committee, the chair of the visiting committee presents an oral report and leads a discussion at the next Corporation meeting.

In preparation for MIT's October 2009 accreditation process, we conducted a review of all the visiting-committee reports from 2005 to 2009 and interviewed members of each department. The data reinforce anecdotal observations that the visiting-committee system is well respected and plays a key role in identifying challenges, suggesting ways to improve student learning, and providing objective yet informed advice to the departments and the Corporation. For example, the 2007 Visiting Committee for the Department of Urban Studies and Planning reported that since its previous visit and its recommendation to increase the size of the undergraduate program, the number of students majoring in urban studies and planning had grown by 50 percent. The 2006 Visiting Committee for the Media Laboratory and Media Arts and Sciences applauded the implementation of its recommendation to develop a multitrack educational program for students. Similarly, the 2007 Visiting Committee for the Whitaker College/Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology cited significant progress on earlier recommendations, including the implementation of dual and joint faculty appointments with departments in the School of Engineering and the School of Science.

Recently, the chairman of the Corporation reiterated that visiting committees should explicitly address faculty diversity, and departments should be held accountable for their progress in this area. In addition, visiting-committee members usually discuss issues of student learning with faculty and current students, although their findings are not always highlighted in the written reports. While issues of space allocation, faculty renewal, and graduate fellowship support are commonly discussed, the highly targeted nature of each visiting committee makes it challenging to draw comparisons or make broad generalizations based on the reports. For specific examples of visiting-committee outcomes, please see the E Schedules.

In addition to the reports prepared at the time of each biennial meeting, visiting-committee chairs routinely meet with the head of their department approximately 12 months after the last visiting-committee meeting. These mid-course meetings provide opportunities to discuss progress on the committee's recommendations and to address issues of concern that came to light at the prior meeting.

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MIT's culture fosters innovation by bringing together the talents of faculty, students, and staff to define problems, identify needs, and construct solutions. This is a model for MIT's approach to engineering puzzles, intractable global problems, and its own institutional planning. While many universities create a single overarching document articulating a strategic plan, MIT's president, provost, and chair of the faculty regularly convene committees or task forces to develop strategies for the Institute's educational programs and research agenda. Recent initiatives include the International Advisory Committee, the Global Council, the Environmental Research Council, the Race Initiative, as well as committees on technology transfer, managing potential conflicts of interest, open access publishing, promotion and tenure, and faculty quality of life.

These groups use data and analysis to drive engaging discussions, seek broad stakeholder input, and prepare thoughtful and comprehensive reports that are shared broadly. The results are practical institutional strategies built around broad themes such as refreshing our curriculum, supporting our long-standing tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration, and expanding MIT's global engagement. We explore each of these topics below.

The Institute has recently entered a period of expanded strategic imagination and, and necessarily, greater levels of collaborative planning. Examples of this increasingly coordinated approach can be found throughout this report.

Perhaps no example better demonstrates our increasingly collaborative efforts than the work of the recent Institute-wide Planning Task Force – a broad, deliberate, and inclusive process in which all branches of MIT are working together to reassess priorities and the use of resources. The work of the Institute-wide Planning Task Force, composed of approximately 200 faculty, student, and staff members, is described throughout the report.

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Curricular renewal

The most exciting advances in the worlds of science and technology require the Institute to continually reassess whether the content of its education is appropriate for the changing landscape of discovery. For this reason, MIT's departments undergo regular planning and evaluation to renovate their curriculum in dynamic ways. Changes since the last accreditation visit include a new major in biological engineering; the merger of ocean engineering and mechanical engineering; curricular revisions in both the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department; and the addition of several new minors.

Beyond these departmental changes, the Institute regularly convenes Institute-wide planning groups to help construct an educational infrastructure that prepares MIT graduates for a lifetime of learning in a rapidly evolving world. This theme was initially addressed in 1998, at the time of MIT's last accreditation visit and the coincident report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning. That report stimulated a decade-long effort to transform student life, residential life, and the physical campus, so that MIT remains a vibrant academic community well into the 21st century.

In 2003, then-president Charles M. Vest appointed a succeeding committee, the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons (UEC), to address the recommendations of the Student Life and Learning Task Force. In the introduction to its report, the UEC Task Force explained that "the work to be done in the coming years to renew the undergraduate curriculum must be seen as continuing the comprehensive educational reform begun here a decade ago. Strengthening the triad of education, research, and community remains the ultimate goal." 6 

The Task Force included more than two dozen faculty members representing a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as a significant number of students and professional staff. Over the course of two and a half years, the Task Force consulted widely with groups and individuals throughout the MIT community. It met with standing faculty committees, particularly the Committee on the Undergraduate Program and the Committee on Curricula, to discuss the General Institute Requirements (GIRs)—the core classes that all MIT students must take. An expanded version of the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) Overview Committee was charged with making a thorough review of the undergraduate HASS Requirement. The Task Force also held a series of listening events with the faculty of each academic unit of the Institute, and it organized two Institute-wide public forums on its deliberations. Additionally, in an effort to gather diverse insights into the undergraduate experience, a Student Advisory Committee was formed to gather input from student groups. The Task Force released its report in October 2006, which led to more discussions within the MIT community.

In October 2007, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program appointed an Educational Commons Subcommittee (ECS) charged with reviewing and refining the Task Force work, with the ultimate goal of proposing a set of concrete changes to the general MIT undergraduate curriculum. Chapter 4, "The Academic Program," provides more detail about the Task Force report, the work of the ECS, their recommendations, and plans for the future.

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Interdisciplinary research

Planning at the Institute is strongly influenced by our focus on interdisciplinary research. Like our peers, MIT is composed of traditional schools and academic departments that have research components. However, the Institute also has an unusually large number of interdisciplinary research centers and laboratories. These collaborations underscore the remarkably low barriers between MIT's departments, and their prevalence can be traced to the Institute's historical role in World War II.

To serve the war effort, MIT was challenged by the U.S. government to help develop radar technology. No single department was equipped to accomplish this task, so faculty from MIT and elsewhere, from many different disciplines, combined forces at the MIT Radiation Laboratory (RadLab). Their collective efforts designed almost half of the radar systems deployed in World War II and set the stage for decades of fruitful interdisciplinary research initiatives at MIT. In 1946, the RadLab was succeeded by the Research Laboratory of Electronics, which remains a leader in the interdisciplinary approach to problems in science and engineering.

Today, more than 50 such interdepartmental research centers are thriving at MIT. This foundation of interdisciplinary work provides an advantage in this moment, when solutions to the world's most pressing problems are emerging at the interface of traditional disciplines. Two examples demonstrate the breadth and scope of some of these collaborations:

Two recent examples of interdisciplinary activity are the MIT Energy Initiative and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. The complex challenges of energy and cancer both require a cross-disciplinary approach.

As indicated earlier, to carry MIT's tradition of cross-disciplinary work into the future, the Institute has entered a period of expanded strategic imagination and more collaborative planning. The Academic Council, chaired by the president, meets weekly during the academic year and includes senior academic and administrative leaders. 7  Over the course of 2008–09, Council members were asked to report on strategic initiatives within their schools or units, and to use the Council as a forum for exploring potential connections across different parts of the Institute. These discussions have been helpful in identifying promising work that crosses disciplinary boundaries and might benefit from synergetic activities with other parts of MIT. As one example, the School of Engineering, in collaboration with the Sloan School of Management and the School of Architecture and Planning, launched the Transportation@MIT Initiative in March 2009. Since that time, some 40 faculty members have come together as part of a major collaborative research project involving expertise from across the schools.

The process of "visioning for the future" will inform the Institute's long-range campus planning for research and education. This process integrates the ideas from many groups that participate in strategic planning. The academic planning of the Academic Council further develops the planning taking place within academic units and helps ensure that local efforts are properly placed within the larger institutional context. This coordinated path is increasingly important in an era of constrained resources, when it will be necessary to prioritize efforts, minimize duplication, spend cautiously, and end projects that have run their natural course.

In addition to these efforts, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Associate Provost is working with faculty across the Institute to coordinate research planning. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 calls for the federal government to invest approximately $22 billion in research and development before September 2010 to stimulate the nation's economy through job creation and retention, and through innovation. MIT has submitted multiple proposals in response to the program and has already received more than two dozen awards with ARRA funding.

Given the centrality of our research enterprise, interdisciplinary research is a topic that threads throughout this report. Above we have addressed its role in shaping our planning and evaluation efforts; we also address it in later chapters on the academic program, faculty, students, physical and technological resources, and financial resources.

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Global engagement

The expanding global connections of the 21st century provide MIT with increasing opportunities to engage in projects and collaborations outside the United States. As President Hockfield noted in a recent speech in India:

It has never been more clear that the future of innovation will be told in many, many different languages. In a world with so much talent, no one has a monopoly on good ideas. As researchers, if we are driven to find the most gifted collaborators and the most intriguing ideas, we must be prepared to look far beyond our own backyards. And as educators, if we fail to help our students learn to live and work with their peers around the world, then we have failed them altogether. 8 

MIT's global opportunities arise from two sources. First, our faculty and students have research and educational interests that often intersect with projects in other countries. This is especially true as communication across national boundaries expands and as international research and teaching interests increasingly complement the Institute's. Second, MIT is widely viewed as a high-value partner by foreign governments, corporations, and universities that increasingly seek to initiate collaborations and share resources with the Institute. These twin forces have been incorporated into the planning and evaluation of our global-engagement strategy.

In 2005, the MIT Faculty Policy Committee issued a set of recommendations for assessing international research or large-scale commitments. These recommendations were designed to help formalize many of the practices and guidelines already being followed and to articulate the guidelines for the MIT community. In spring 2006, a series of 10 seminars on various MIT international activities was presented to the Academic Council, to provide our senior leadership with a shared perspective on some of the institutional issues that arise from these activities. More recently, faculty working groups have been charged with examining the possible expansion of collaborations in several countries and regions, notably India, China, and the Middle East. In addition, the Global MIT website ( was created to catalog the many international activities across the Institute.

A number of general observations about MIT's international engagements and their importance to the future health of the Institute have emerged:

In the context of these and related observations, in spring 2007 Provost Rafael Reif appointed an International Advisory Committee (IAC) composed of senior faculty from the five schools and members of the senior administration. The committee was asked to recommend strategic courses of action regarding MIT's international engagements in the coming decades. The IAC expects to issue a final report to the Academic Council and the faculty in fall 2009 to provide guidelines for determining what kinds of engagements and which countries or regions hold the most promise for successful collaboration on mutual educational and research interests. To a significant degree, MIT's country-specific faculty working groups will shape and articulate these interests further. We expect that MIT's international engagements will reflect the Institute's tradition of integrating research with education, applying knowledge to practice, and working across academic disciplines to encourage creative innovation. In planning a global strategy, the IAC also recognizes that MIT must remain flexible in pursuing research and educational priorities that inevitably change over time.

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To help assess all of MIT's academic and research activities, the Office of Institutional Research (IR) systematically collects and analyzes data. IR, which reports to the provost, performs a broad range of services: responding to external requests for data, complying with federal requirements for data submissions, submitting data to a number of consortia, maintaining a central database on faculty, conducting survey research, and performing special projects. IR maintains current and historical data on many aspects of MIT's academic and administrative operations, including staffing, finances, sponsored research, space resources, and student outcomes. These data are used to generate metrics such as student-to-faculty ratios, enrollment per faculty, and research expenditures per square foot. In addition, the office produces a number of annual reports at the institutional, school, and departmental levels, including a 10-year profile of each department. These reports are used extensively by the visiting committees and in planning and evaluation efforts.

IR also oversees a broad program of survey research (information on MIT's suite of surveys is available in the accreditation team room). Surveys of faculty provide insight into quality-of-life issues, promotion and tenure experiences, workloads, and concerns about community. While direct assessment of student learning is the responsibility of academic programs, centrally conducted surveys are a mechanism for indirect measurement. These surveys provide valuable feedback not only about undergraduate and graduate education, but also about student life.

Another IR function is coordinating MIT's participation in various consortia-based research programs. These include the Consortium for the Financing of Higher Education, various Ivy Plus groups, the Association of Independent Technological Universities, and the Association of American Universities Data Exchange. Through participation with these groups, MIT can incorporate peer comparisons in studies of undergraduate- and graduate-student outcomes and satisfaction.

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Like our peers, MIT has adjusted its planning in response to the global economic slowdown. In the spirit of practicality, creativity, and inclusiveness, we have launched a broad, collaborative effort to design less-expensive, more-efficient processes. In November 2008, MIT's president and provost wrote to the MIT community about the worsening economic environment:

Ambitious forward motion is MIT's signature; we celebrate initiative, innovation, relentless improvement, and creative change. Yet as the world's financial markets continue to decline, they forecast a global reduction in resources. In that context, our challenge is clear: together, we must chart a financially prudent path forward, but one that sustains and fosters the essential character of MIT. 11 

To that end, MIT launched an Institute-wide Planning Task Force, bringing together faculty, staff, and students to assess how we carry out our mission and consider ways to make improvements while reducing expenses. In February 2009, the Task Force was formally charged with reviewing and analyzing current practices and expenditures and with specifically identifying:

The Task Force also was charged with maintaining MIT's commitment to:

Wide-ranging in scope, the Task Force has four major areas of focus: academic planning, administrative planning, student life, and revenue enhancement. Two of these areas are further subdivided: academic planning encompasses education, research, and physical space, while administrative planning covers administrative processes, human resources and benefits, procurement, and information technology (see Chart 2A).

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Chart 2A: Institute-wide Planning Task Force Organization Chart

Chart 2a

Because the Task Force was expected to recommend changes that could affect activities across the Institute, its members—87 faculty, 85 staff, and 20 students—were drawn from a wide cross-section of the MIT community. Each of the nine Task Force working groups was also carefully assembled to include representatives from a wide range of departments, and each is cochaired by at least one member of the faculty.

To provide news, information, and updates about Institute-wide planning, MIT created a website at In addition, to encourage participation by the entire MIT community, the Institute launched an online Idea Bank ( where individuals can submit suggestions to the Task Force and comment on posted ideas. The website is designed to summarize ideas for each of the working groups, facilitating each team's ability to engage the community more broadly. The Idea Bank has been greeted with great enthusiasm across the Institute for its ability to provide a transparent and direct method of communication. In its first six months, more than 3,000 faculty, staff, students, and alumni visited the website and submitted over 1,000 ideas and comments. Some suggestions to transform processes, improve effectiveness, and achieve efficiencies have already been implemented. For example, the Institute is moving toward electronic travel-expense reporting, automation of requests for payment, and direct deposit of reimbursements.

The work of the Task Force is also informed by the ongoing planning in departments and schools to meet the immediate budgetary reductions for fiscal year 2009–10 (described in Chapter 9, "Financial Resources"). Additionally, the Task Force members have consulted widely with department heads, deans, and others with planning responsibility in their particular areas. The working groups have relied heavily on a special Data Analysis Group, formed to supply pertinent financial data and other information necessary to make informed recommendations on the Institute's operations.

The Task Force's preliminary report will be released to the MIT community in August 2009 as our accreditation document is being finalized. Faculty, students, staff, and alumni will be able to comment on the Task Force report via the Idea Bank. Some recommendations are likely to be adopted soon, while others will require several months or years to evaluate and implement. For this reason we are unable to incorporate the work of the Task Force in a substantive way into our narrative report. However, we have included its preliminary report as Appendix 6, we reference its work in almost every chapter, and we look forward to engaging the NEASC evaluation team on the Task Force's findings.

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Alongside the five schools, the Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) is a unique cross-disciplinary joint venture with Harvard University. Over 400 graduate students of science, medicine, engineering, and management take their training side by side at HST (
MIT, Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons (October 2006), p. 3.
The Academic Council is described in more detail in Chapter 3, "Organization and Governance."
Susan Hockfield, “Universities and the Global Knowledge Economy” (speech to Confederation of Indian Industries, Mumbai, India, November 20, 2007; available at
Recommendations at the undergraduate level are contained in the recent reports of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons and the Committee on Global Educational Opportunities for MIT Undergraduate Education, which are available in the accreditation team room. Global education is further addressed in Chapter 4, "The Academic Program."
10 Further information on these collaborations can be found in the accreditation team room.
11 Susan Hockfield and L. Rafael Reif, letter to the community on MIT finances, November 2008. Available at