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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Accreditation

2009 Accreditation Report

Institutional Self-Study

11. Integrity



As a higher-education institution dedicated to advancing knowledge and educating students in science and technology, MIT and members of its community have a duty to one another, and to the world, to act with integrity. The Institute embraces this duty, which manifests itself in MIT's stated mission: "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's commitment to integrity is evident in the Institute's governance, policies, and practices.

 

I. RESOURCES

Faculty and staff

The MIT Policies and Procedures website, nicknamed the "P&P," is considered the "go to" place for almost any policy question. Readily accessible, P&P is intended to guide members of the MIT community in their pursuit of Institute objectives. Its primary focus is on faculty and staff, but many of the policies apply to the entire Institute community. The accuracy and consistency of the information maintained on the site is of utmost importance. Periodically, the Office of the President reviews the site, sending policy to relevant offices or individuals for feedback. On an ongoing basis, the assistant deans of the five schools review, discuss, and revise various sections to reflect changes in policy or to address current circumstances. In 2009, the President's Office conducted a major review of many P&P policies and launched a redesigned website that makes P&P easier to search and navigate (http://web.mit.edu/policies/).

Given the dynamic nature of MIT's activities and forces external to the Institute, P&P does not, and cannot, address all potential issues of integrity. However, P&P does provide a framework of principles that supports the Institute's position on issues of integrity and that serves as a guide for the MIT community. P&P includes policies related to conflicts of interest, outside professional activities, gifts and gratuities, personal conduct, violence, racism, and health and safety. Its policies also cover harassment, complaints and grievances, academic misconduct, privacy and information disclosure, relations with the public, use of the MIT name, intellectual property, the Institute Archives, and research.

For additional guidance on issues of integrity, members of the MIT community may turn to other significant resources, such as:

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Students

MIT also emphasizes to students its expectations of integrity. The annual Courses Catalogue issue of the MIT Bulletin states:

MIT expects that all students come to the Institute for a serious academic purpose and expects them to be responsible individuals who conduct themselves with high standards of honesty and personal conduct... Fundamental to the principle of independent learning and professional growth is the requirement of honesty and integrity in conduct of one's academic and nonacademic life. Maintenance of a healthy living and learning environment requires that all members of the community exercise due respect for the basic rights of one another.

The MIT Bulletin also directs students to individuals and groups on campus that can be supportive in the application of these principles. Other MIT publications—specifically, Mind + Hand + Book and the Academic Integrity handbook—are key tools for students navigating issues of academic integrity. Mind + Hand + Book is an online student handbook that is updated frequently. It delineates many of the topics identified above in the excerpt from the MIT Bulletin and organizes them in an intuitive way for students. The Academic Integrity handbook, also available online, presents important information relating to students' academic work. For example, it offers guidance on properly acknowledging sources, collaborating on assignments, and writing original code. Graduate students are also reminded of MIT's expectations of academic integrity through MIT's Graduate Policies and Procedures website. The website incorporates many of the resources listed above and supplements them with additional information directed at graduate students.

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Ombuds Office

In addition to the offices that serve specific segments of the campus, the Ombuds Office is an independent, confidential, neutral resource for the whole, diverse MIT community—faculty, staff at all levels, students, and postdocs. In the Ombuds Office, every voice at MIT can receive impartial attention without fearing loss of privacy. Mirroring the diverse, cross-disciplinary, and international character of MIT, the Ombuds Office increasingly handles complex matters involving multiple issues and multiple cohorts. The Office helps people express concerns, resolve disputes, manage conflicts, and learn more productive ways of communicating. It also seeks to promote a fair conflict-management system and supports systemic changes to achieve this goal.

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II. PROMOTING A CULTURE OF INTEGRITY

Governance

A commitment to integrity requires a transparent and inclusive process for making decisions and policies. To this end, MIT relies on over 30 committees appointed by the president and the Corporation to foster broad and transparent discussion on key policy areas. Committee members are held to high ethical standards in the management of MIT affairs and in their dealings with students, faculty, staff, the Institute's governing board, external agencies and organizations, and the general public. The vast majority of these committees include representatives from the student, faculty, and staff populations. By federal mandate, the Institute has review boards on animal care and human subjects. Other committees focus on safety issues such environmental health and safety, biohazards, and radiation protection. Still other committees concentrate on specific priorities at MIT, promoting communication on topics such as race and diversity or on issues specific to support staff or female employees. In addition, faculty committees—such as the Committee on the Undergraduate Program and the Committee on the Graduate Program—often address issues related to integrity; most of the faculty committees include student representatives as well. A full list of committees and councils of the Institute can be found at http://web.mit.edu/committees/www/.

As noted in Chapter 3, the Institute is governed under the terms of a charter granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The members of the Corporation are responsible for ensuring that the Institute is managed in conformance with the terms of its charter. It is the policy of the Institute that its officers, faculty, staff, and others acting on its behalf have the obligation to avoid ethical, legal, financial, or other conflicts of interest, and to ensure that their activities and interests do not conflict with their obligations to the Institute or with the welfare of the Institute.

Effective administration of this policy requires that disclosure of relevant outside professional activities, including financial interests that might give rise to conflicts, be disclosed to designated Institute officers. Members of the faculty and of the sponsored research and administrative staffs must report annually on their outside professional activities. The Executive Committee of the Corporation receives an annual report on outside activities of the faculty and staff. Similarly, all members of the Corporation make an annual conflict-of-interest report to the chairman of the Corporation, while the officers of the Corporation make an equivalent report to the chairman of the Salary Subcommittee of the Executive Committee, who is not a compensated employee of the Institute.

The Corporation also holds a public trust to assure that the Institute's financial resources are preserved for future generations as well as for current purposes. The financial oversight exercised by the Corporation and its Executive and Audit committees is detailed in Chapter 9.

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Research

Fostering research and inquiry into intellectual areas of great promise is one of the most basic obligations MIT has to its faculty, to its students, and to society at large. Consequently, the Institute sees profound merit in a policy of open research and free interchange of information among scholars. At the same time, MIT is committed to acting responsibly and ethically in all its research activities. As a result, MIT has policies related to the suitability of research projects, research conduct, sources of support, use of human subjects, sponsored programs, relations with intelligence agencies, the acquisition of art and artifacts, the disposition of equipment, and collaborations with research-oriented industrial organizations. These policies are spelled out on the Policies and Procedures website and on the Office of Sponsored Programs website. Graduate students and postdoctoral students receive further education on ethical issues through their departments and as part of their training grants.

Although proud of its existing safeguards, MIT has recommitted itself to examine issues of integrity with added vigilance. In recent years, the complexity of the research enterprise has increased, particularly in the areas involving commercial sponsorship, technology transfer, and international engagement. Given this evolution, MIT has initiated a number of comprehensive reviews of its principles, policies, and procedures with the goal of preserving the highest standards of conduct among all those in its community.

In fall 2008, the provost, in consultation with the chair of the faculty, appointed an ad hoc faculty Committee on Managing Potential Conflicts of Interest in Research. The role of the committee is threefold: (1) to review the types of individual and institutional relationships that have the potential to give rise to actual or perceived conflicts of interest; (2) to assess applicable laws and regulations; and (3) to examine the Institute's written and practiced policies and procedures related to conflicts of interest and compare them to those of other higher educational institutions. This committee is expected to recommend changes that will strengthen and clarify the Institute's policies and procedures; review mechanisms for monitoring and reporting conflicts of interest; and recommend programs for ongoing education and information exchange regarding research integrity and conflict of interest.

In a related move, the provost, in consultation with the chair of the faculty, appointed another ad hoc faculty committee, the Committee on Technology Transfer in the 21st Century. This group is exploring ways in which MIT's policies, procedures, and practices can enhance and accelerate technology transfer to contribute to the economy and welfare of the nation and the world. In addition to reviewing industrial partnerships and the principles on which they rest, the group will learn from practices at peer institutions. Then it will recommend appropriate changes to MIT's policies and procedures to enable the formation of beneficial, strategic partnerships with industry while preserving MIT's fundamental values and principles.

In recognition of the connection between the two studies, the Committee on Managing Potential Conflicts of Interest and the Committee on Technology Transfer in the 21st Century are coordinating with each other. Reports are expected from both groups in 2009-10. More information can be found in the accreditation team room and at http://web.mit.edu/provost/committees.html.

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Student community

As part of our efforts to rethink and promote integrity among our students, in 2008 the Office of Student Mediation and Community Standards became the Office of Student Citizenship (OSC). The change was made not only to improve an awkward and somewhat confusing name, but also to reflect a philosophical shift toward investing students with the responsibility for developing and enforcing their own standards of conduct. OSC strives to help students become responsible, ethical members of the MIT community and the world at large. While OSC remains the gateway for formal disciplinary action against students, the office also seeks to be a place where students can come to work through concerns about values and integrity. With that goal in mind, OSC promotes collaboratively created community standards; community-based approaches to student intervention and education; and a process for enforcing community standards that is fair, easily accessible, transparent, and well publicized. While OSC encourages individuals to resolve conflicts by themselves, it also provides support to the Committee on Discipline (the faculty committee that adjudicates cases of student misconduct) and to various student judicial committees and mediation teams within the student residences.

As with most universities, students occasionally participate in behavior that is risky to themselves or to others, and they sometimes engage in academic dishonesty. If a student commits an act of academic misconduct, MIT's academic-integrity policy allows faculty almost complete discretion in handling the matter. A faculty member can take any action he or she feels is appropriate regarding the student's grade, including failing the student for that class. In addition, the faculty member can document the misconduct by having a letter placed in the student's file or by bringing a formal case to the Committee on Discipline. Documenting the misconduct reinforces the inappropriateness of the student's behavior and discourages repeated infractions. The Office of Student Citizenship is available to assist faculty in deciding how best to address these difficult situations.

In an October 2007 letter to the MIT community 40 , the chancellor called on community members to sharpen their commitment to the Institute's core values and obligations. As one example, the chancellor cited integrity issues related to MIT students' practice of "hacking." A tradition at MIT, hacking is understood to be the design and execution of harmless pranks, tricks, and creative explorations that demonstrate ingenuity and cleverness. Although a strict "hacker's code" has always emphasized safety, responsibility, and accountability, in February 2008 MIT added new language to the student handbook to strengthen hackers' understanding of their responsibilities. The change to the handbook, developed over a number of months with the help of students, faculty, and administrators, serves as one example of how MIT works with students on disciplinary issues, and how the community works together to address concerns.

To ensure standards of integrity, MIT's individual schools have additional measures in place. For example, MIT Sloan's MBA program Professional Standards provides behavior guidelines for students, faculty, and staff inside and outside the classroom. The school's Student Senate began the MIT Sloan initiative in 2000. Professional Standards has recently been relaunched as Values@MIT Sloan. Focusing on core values such as integrity, respect, collaboration, innovation, and positive impact, the language was updated to better align with the school's mission statement to develop principled, innovative leaders. Value@MIT Sloan content is included in all syllabi, discussed at the beginning of every class, and encouraged in extracurricular activities.

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III. DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

MIT is committed to ensuring equality of opportunity in education and employment at the Institute. Chapters 5 and 6 ("Faculty" and "Students") cover MIT's recruitment, retention, and support services for members of underrepresented groups. In addition to those initiatives, many others are under way.

The Committee on Race and Diversity is composed of students, faculty, and staff who seek to promote communication on issues of diversity and inclusion. This committee also organizes cultural activities such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

Recognizing the pivotal role that employees play in fostering a culture of inclusion throughout the Institute, the Human Resources (HR) Department has developed goals for campuswide affirmative-action plans, reestablished the Staff Diversity Council (a presidential advisory group), and designated a manager of staff diversity. In addition to developing a new Staff Diversity website, HR is working to ensure that diversity is embedded in all leadership programs, and it is training staff on issues of bias inclusion and cultural competence.

These Institute-wide efforts are supplemented by diversity initiatives within schools, departments, and administrative units. For example, in 2007 the School of Architecture and Planning hired its first-ever manager of diversity recruiting. MIT Medical has a Diversity Steering Committee that publishes its own newsletter, sets up programs for diversity training, and organizes monthly discussions of issues related to inclusiveness. The chair of the Physics Department presented a plan to the department's faculty to draw more women and underrepresented minorities to MIT.

Reflecting MIT's increasing attention to these issues, the president and the provost have instituted an annual Diversity Report to the Corporation to monitor progress on diversity recruitment and retention of students, faculty, and staff. Building on these efforts, President Hockfield recently challenged the Institute to make serious and meaningful steps forward in its diversity and inclusion efforts. In 2008, she observed:

If this were any other kind of problem—an engineering problem, a scientific problem, an unsolved problem in mathematics or a problem of national defense—we would not be satisfied with well-intentioned but only incremental progress.... I believe MIT needs to commit itself to unprecedented, sustained, concrete action on diversity and inclusion. And I believe that the time to do it is now." 41 

To that end, the president brought together more than 300 of MIT's academic, administrative, and student leaders for a Diversity Leadership Congress on November 18, 2008. Acknowledging that no one solution or approach will work for every department or school, she called upon the distributed leadership of the Institute to approach this challenge with a unified commitment to drive positive change.

Discussions from the Congress yielded over 1,000 written comments regarding current and future diversity and inclusion practices. Comments ranged from specific programming or policy suggestions to general reflections. Lessons learned from the Congress are being used to launch a new interactive website in fall 2009. In addition, several of MIT's diversity groups are examining the data and identifying models that work and that can be repurposed as tools to be used throughout the Institute. In spring 2009, MIT launched a dialogue series about unconscious bias and its unintended consequences. More than 75 faculty, staff, and students participated in the program, which stressed not only personal development, but also the development of professional and cultural-competency skills. Fittingly, given the need for collaborative approaches to diversity issues, the program was jointly sponsored by the Committee on Race and Diversity; the Council on Staff Diversity; the Student Activities Office; the Initiative on Faculty, Race, and Diversity; the Graduate Student Council; and the Undergraduate Association.

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IV. PROJECTIONS

MIT will continue to maintain the highest ethical standards in its teaching, research, and administration, articulating its expectations for trustees, faculty, students, and staff in widely disseminated policy documents available in print and online. Policies and procedures will be revisited, renewed, and updated as appropriate to reflect the evolving needs of the community. As mentioned earlier, reports are expected in the next year from the faculty committees on Managing Potential Conflicts of Interest and MIT Technology Transfer in the 21st Century.

Another priority is strengthening our culture of inclusion. MIT strives to be a place that reaches out to, welcomes, and rewards the very best talent, no matter where that talent comes from. We succeed in our diversity only when all members of the community feel valued, included, and at ease— empowered to do their best work and fully contribute to our mission. MIT has unrelenting standards of excellence; we expect great things of our students, faculty, and staff. In return, we must offer them unfettered opportunities and strong support. If there are any barriers in our culture, we must identify what those are and make changes.

We also anticipate devoting more time and attention to integrity issues involving electronic media and communications. Given the growing role of technology in the lives of MIT students, the Institute has a special responsibility to present clear guidelines on the proper use of all copyrighted materials, particularly digital ones, and to disseminate information on the consequences of digital copyright infringement and unauthorized file sharing. Despite massive public-information campaigns and media coverage of the enforcement activities of the entertainment and software industries, some members of the MIT community are still unaware of the legal and disciplinary consequences of unauthorized file sharing. MIT will continue to inform both current and prospective students of their rights and responsibilities, in compliance with the evolving regulations related to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. We plan to provide information through the Student Financial Services website, the Mind + Hand + Book website, a planned revision of the MIT Academic Integrity handbook, and the general MIT copyright portal at http://web.mit.edu/copyright/.

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Footnotes

40 Philip Clay, "Student letter regarding hacking" (letter, October 1, 2007: available at http://web.mit.edu/chancellor/letters/letter10012007.html).
41 Susan Hockfield, "Diversity and Inclusion: Building a Solution Worthy of MIT" (speech, February 21, 2008: available at http://web.mit.edu/hockfield/speeches/2008-mlk-breakfast.html).