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Massachusetts Institute of Technology


2009 Accreditation Report

Institutional Self-Study


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has honored its distinctive mission since coming to life, in 1861, as a "School of Industrial Science." As America assumed the confidence and complications of an industrialized society, MIT offered students an education of particular relevance and purpose. Founded on a commitment to tackling real-world problems, a passionate belief in learning-by-doing, and the then-revolutionary notion that teaching and research should be deliberately linked, within decades MIT was producing innovators and innovations that would, in several senses, take us to the moon.

Today, with a deep commitment to public service and a boundless curiosity about the physical universe and human society, the Institute has a strikingly global community of faculty, researchers, students and alumni that collectively drive our engine of innovation and discovery. In an era increasingly defined by the products and implications of science and technology, and building on the Institute's founding ideals and long record of service, we strive to advance the outer limits of knowledge in many fields and develop practical answers to humanity's shared problems.

MIT's core ideals find a physical manifestation in the most recognizable part of our campus: our "main group" of buildings and great dome. The frieze of these buildings include a carved band of names, giants of science and philosophy, mathematics and medicine, architecture, art and engineering: Aristotle and Archimedes, Newton and Franklin, Darwin and Pasteur. While the world has changed greatly since these names were carved almost a century ago, MIT's commitment to the daring spirit of these individuals remains undiminished. The Institute actively recruits individuals who embody the values and characteristics of the names on the frieze – students and faculty who are passionate about math and science, engineering and design, art and philosophy. Hopeful, ambitious and curious, they each seek to make their own contribution to the building blocks of human understanding.

Despite the endurance of our mission and passion of our faculty and students, many aspects of the Institute look considerably different even from a few decades ago. In 1960, 99 percent of MIT's undergraduates were white and 97 percent were men; now, half of MIT's undergraduates are nonwhite, and almost half are women. Our community is also more international in composition, global in outlook, and increasingly multidisciplinary in its intellectual interests. Reflecting the changing needs of the Institute since our last NEASC accreditation visit in 1999, we have completed a comprehensive review of the undergraduate curriculum and begun implementing some exciting changes. We have also built and/or renovated three million gross square feet of space, and initiated a long-range planning process to define future needs of MIT's physical plant. The Institute completed a $2 billion capital campaign, the largest in MIT's history, and launched an additional fundraising initiative for priorities related to student life and learning.

The pages that follow chronicle advances such as those above, but also point to areas where we must devote sustained attention in the years ahead. Although our challenges are common to many institutions of higher education, each one has dimensions unique to MIT. Our hope is to engage the visiting team with the following topics, among others, in a substantive way during its visit in October 2009.

Preparing MIT undergraduates for a lifetime of learning

While the past fifty years of undergraduate education at MIT have been successful in producing outstanding graduates, developments in the world and changing characteristics of students have brought important tensions to the curriculum. The most exciting challenges in science and technology require us to reassess whether the content of our scientific education is flexible enough to meet those demands. Because it is impossible to provide completely satisfactory professional preparation in four years, our most important task is to construct an educational infrastructure that prepares MIT graduates for a lifetime of learning. We also recognize that students will need more than a world-class technical education to succeed. For all these reasons, we have spent over a decade rethinking the classroom and laboratory experiences, enriching our extracurricular offerings, and bringing them together to create a richer and better calibrated mix. Achieving an ideally integrated triad of academics, research, and community remains a critical goal of the Institute, and a major theme of this report.

Leveraging our strong tradition of collaborative interdisciplinary research

Traditional boundaries among scientific disciplines have receded in recent years, a fact particularly true at the interface of life sciences with the physical sciences and engineering. In the last half-century, life science has swiftly evolved into a quantitative experimental discipline that delivers critically important applications, from medical treatments that are saving lives, to environmental strategies that will help save the planet. Engineering and computational breakthroughs have propelled huge progress in the life sciences, and the life sciences now supply intriguing new tools for engineers. MIT's tradition of cross-department centers, uniform strength among academic disciplines, and unified governance structure positions us to take advantage of this new scientific era. In response, the Institute has launched a number of key initiatives, such as those in energy and integrative cancer research, but continues to face many strategic questions. What will the most important areas of scholarship look like in 20 years? How do we best bring MIT's core strength in engineering to bear on the world's present and future challenges? What partners will we need for success? To help answer these questions and guide our tradition of cross-disciplinary work into the future, MIT has entered a period of expanded strategic imagination and, as a result, greater levels of collaborative planning.

Refining our understanding of MIT's global engagement

Like many institutions of higher learning, MIT is grappling with an appropriate strategy for global engagement in education and research. For many years, the Institute's participation in solving problems of international importance has been well recognized, but preparing undergraduates for global roles as future leaders in their disciplines and as citizens of the world has not been a high Institute priority. In today's interconnected society, it is imperative that all MIT graduates be able to adapt to different cultures and understand the larger context in which their future lives and careers will unfold. This is particularly true given that many of the greatest technological and scientific challenges facing current and future generations are global in nature: climate change, energy, poverty, health care, clean water, and the quality of our ocean ecosystems. These changes have profound implications for how our faculty conducts research and for the kinds of educational opportunities we must provide for students. MIT is deeply invested in exploring the best global education for undergraduates and defining an international engagement strategy for faculty and student research.

Strengthening MIT's diversity and culture of inclusion

For our students to contribute to future research areas and lead in global communities, we must prepare them to step outside their own worldviews, to appreciate other people's life experiences and to engage their perspectives. For the same reasons, a diverse community of faculty and staff is crucial to MIT's future success. This report particularly emphasizes our extensive efforts to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minorities all along the academic pipeline. However, a community succeeds in its diversity only when it looks beyond the numbers alone and focuses on creating an environment in which all of its members can do their very best work. Therefore the report also reflects on our reenergized effort to create a culture of inclusion, so MIT can actively capitalize on our community's diverse skills and perspectives, and better advance the fundamental mission of MIT.

Threading throughout the report is the recognition that these high aspirations are made all the more daunting by the global economic crisis. Around the world and in every sector, fundamental economic assumptions have dramatically changed over the last year. Last November, anticipating a dramatic decline in our endowment's value, we set out a plan to significantly reduce our General Institute Budget by $100 to $150 million within two to three years. Given the magnitude of these reductions, MIT has been working to design lasting, sustainable changes to best align resources to our mission. Since February 2009, a group of almost 200 faculty, students and staff has been looking beyond the scope of any individual unit, department, or school to design broad, creative strategies to cut expenses and share resources while sustaining MIT's standards of excellence. We expect a preliminary set of their recommendations to be released as our accreditation report is finalized. The recommendations will be included as an appendix and discussed as part of the evaluation team visit in October 2009.

As we inevitably curtail functions and habits that do not accelerate our progress, it is clear that MIT will not look the same at the time of our next NEASC evaluation visit in 2019. Although these changes will require sacrifices, we are optimistic that the Institute will emerge stronger, more flexible and better equipped to generate the knowledge and innovations, and the scholars and innovators, the nation and world need now more than ever.

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