5.0 A Faculty for the 21st Century

5.1 Philosophy

As leaders of the MIT community, the faculty play a paramount role in setting the values and direction of the community. If the ideals contained within the Educational Triad are to succeed, it is the MIT faculty who must play the leading role in implementing them and applying them in their own work. We believe that the Educational Triad implies major changes in four areas of faculty responsibility: faculty recruitment, tenure, advising and teaching. In improving these four areas, the faculty should embody the rich diversity of values and background of the community as a whole. The faculty must participate in all three areas of the Triad: community, teaching, and research. Faculty are already involved in the three areas, but their involvement is heavily weighted towards research. The faculty as a whole should play a key role in linking the three areas into a single educational product.

5.2 Recruitment, tenure, funding, and teaching and community chairs

The process of recruiting and granting tenure is the central mechanism for setting the priorities and values of the faculty. Currently, the easiest area in which faculty can distinguish themselves and earn tenure is through research prowess. If the faculty's energies are to be redirected toward the other two areas of the Triad, these processes must be examined. Specifically, these processes can encourage and promote involvement and excellence in community and teaching, whereas they are currently geared towards promoting excellence in only the research side.

Many faculty and junior faculty already excel at teaching in the classroom. However, because high-quality teaching is not generally rewarded in the granting of tenure or funding, it receives less attention and fewer resources. The system thus fails to motivate good teachers to become excellent teachers, and prevents many superior teachers from getting tenure at all.

If the tenure process gives faculty little incentive to improve teaching or recruit better teachers, it does even less to promote faculty involvement in the community as a whole. MIT encourages faculty to sit on Institute committees and participate in departmental governance structures, but these activities are essentially invisible to all but a handful of students. Faculty participate in few activities with students, and only a handful of faculty live in student living groups as faculty residents and housemasters.

What is the ideal model of faculty participation in academics, community, and research, and how can the tenure process help us reach that ideal? The 1949 Committee on the Educatinal Survey report (the Lewis report) set out high standards for the faculty, arguing that MIT should recruit "super faculty" who could do the best research in their field, interact in the community, and be the best teachers. An examination of the pressures facing today's faculty leads us to conclude that finding "super faculty" is beyond the capacity of both the organization and its individuals. Good research, strong teaching, and active participation in the community each demand something approaching a full-time commitment of those who would aspire to them. A half-century after the Lewis report, there are few "super faculty" at MIT. The Student Advisory Committee therefore rejects the "super faculty" concept proposed by the Lewis report: we should not look for faculty who will commit their resources and energy to all three areas of the Triad, for to do so would risk mediocrity in all three.

Instead, we propose first that the faculty commit itself to excellence in all three areas: some professors must excel in research, some in teaching, and some in community participation. Some may excel in all three, but concentrate on only one area in a given year, while others may not demonstrate excellence in one or two areas. We would hope that those with weaknesses would have both the incentive and the opportunity to improve.

Second, the hiring and tenure process also presents an excellent opportunity to increase diversity in the faculty. A diverse faculty can play an educational role, both by increasing the opportunities for students belonging to underrepresented groups to find positive role models among the faculty, and enriching the entire community. MIT should continue its aggressive recruitment of women and minority candidates for faculty positions. The process of change recommended in this report presents greater opportunities to attract new and different faculty members, and to value their contributions more fully.

What is the appropriate level of faculty commitment to each area of the Educational Triad? Currently resources and energy are overwhelmingly devoted to research, with academic teaching a distant second and community participation barely qualifying for the race. Although the vast majority of funding will continue to flow through MIT laboratories and project groups, some reapportioning is clearly in order. The Student Advisory Committee believes that each department should be responsible for meeting an Institute-wide commitment to teaching and academics. The point should not be to find teachers for all the classes the department would like to offer, or merely to fill all the housemaster slots in the dormitories. Rather, the purpose should be to alter the culture as a whole toward offering a balanced, integrated educational product.

It is not the purpose of this report to endorse or design a specific method for increasing the faculty commitment to teaching and community involvement. We do have some ideas which will elucidate the types of actions we believe would help to reshape departmental commitments, and illustrate the scale of change we feel is needed. One way to reshape departmental commitments would be to allocate a portion of the funds to specific, prestigious teaching positions or "chairs": a professor holding a teaching chair would focus almost exclusively on teaching and advising. Departments would also allocate funds for a certain number of community chairs that would allow a professor to make a full-time commitment to participating and leading community activities, participating in Institute governance structures, and interacting with students outside the classroom. Such positions might be two-year ventures - a professor who took a teaching or community chair would keep his or her tenure (rather than being treated as a second-class faculty member or non-departmental Dean's Office employee), and would return to the research track after the term of the chair-ship had expired. Other chairs might be filled permanently, with all the privileges of tenure. The "chairs" system would create a recognized leadership position in each department responsible for making sure that the commitment to teaching andommunity involvement is being met. This would allow departments to meet existing research commitments while still offering students a balanced, integrated educational product.

Another option is to collect an Institute teaching and community funding pool, serving a similar purpose as research grants, that could fund professors spending a certain number of hours meeting teaching and community involvement requirements. Such a system could be used to support tenure for junior faculty who have demonstrated excellence in teaching and community leadership, or it could support a system of temporary "chairs" described above.

A final option, and one we view as particularly attractive to both students and faculty, is to emphasize faculty involvement in the community during the summer. Although many undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members remain on campus during the summer, engaging in outside research projects or summer employment, those three months are treated as a kind of vacation from MIT for both groups, in spite of their continued presence. Because the level of stress and pressure is lower, and the recreational opportunities greater, the summer is an excellent time to encourage informal interaction between faculty members and students, planting the seeds for stronger relationships between the two groups throughout the year. The summer is also a good time for planning community activities for upcoming terms, and for evaluating the effectiveness of established activities. Yet faculty members have little incentive to engage with the community during the summer. If more funding for community involvement and community activities involving faculty members were available, we believe the summer could become more than a time for fundraising and escape.

It is not the purpose of this report to endorse or design a specific method for increasing the faculty commitment to teaching and community involvement. If the MIT culture is to change, individual upper administrators, faculty members, and students must make their own way toward altering the commitment. It is clear, however, that a major structural change is necessary to accomplish that end. And that change is necessary: if faculty members do not participate in the integration of the three areas of the Triad, nothing will change at MIT.

5.3 Advising

Building a faculty with greater diversity and commitments to the broader educational mission of the Institute will also enable the faculty to improve and augment its role as a source of advising and mentoring to students. MIT currently provides several tutoring and advising services geared toward minority students through the Office of Minority Education and other MIT offices. While some counseling resources are available to female students, academic advising is severely lacking. We recommend the creation of a women's advising program in each department to address this need. The program will involve designating at least one faculty member or academic administrator to serve as an advisor to female students in the department. This special advisor would not serve as the student's sole advisor but would function as an additional resource to those who desire it.

Ideally, an advisor is more than a source for suggestions about which subjects a student should register for. An advisor should be a source of information about life. How should the student prepare for career opportunities beyond MIT, and outside of the field in question? An advisor should be a source of professional contacts within MIT, and outside of MIT, or should at least be able to refer an advisee to the appropriate person who can provide these contacts. An advisor should also be in touch with how the student is doing emotionally, intellectually, and financially at MIT, should the student need a resource in these areas.

The current system is hobbled by the norm that advisors be members of the faculty. Many faculty members are simply not knowledgeable enough about the undergraduate curriculum to adequately advise their students. In addition, many professors are either unwilling or unable to devote sufficient time to their roles as advisors. Separating academic advising from the stream of students' lives creates an artificial boundary between academics and the rest of the world, one that should be overcome in any new system. If advising were more closely linked with students lives beyond the department wall, it could serve as a strong tie between the faculty and the larger MIT community.

Clearly, if advising is to expand beyond its current, restricted domain, it must be more professional. For this reason, this committee recommends that departments allocate resources to create a smaller, more dedicated pool of advisors. This new pool of advisors might be composed of faculty, qualified graduate students, and academic administrators, and should be restricted to those with skills in mentoring and networking. Appropriate levels of funding should be available to faculty, graduate students, and staff who are part of the advisory program, and other professional commitments should be relaxed during the period of their involvement. These pools should be integrated with other advisory offices at MIT - such as the Office of Career Services, the Office of Counseling and Support Services, the Office of Minority Education, and the Office Undergraduate Academic Affairs - in order to provide an integrated advising service to undergraduates.

In order for an integrated advising system to succeed, adequate and systematic training should be provided to advisors. This training should be both departmental and general; advisors need preparation for advising about curricular matters, and about career and life issues beyond the realm of academics. Eventually, seasoned or experienced advisors would train and mentor newer advisors, building a self-sustaining advising organization.

Although this report emphasizes undergraduate advising, graduate advising should also be reviewed, with particular attention paid to the extent to which an integrated advising service would be useful for some graduate students as well as undergraduates.

5.4 Teaching and diversity

As an integral part of the academic leg of the Triad, the classroom experience is one of the most important aspects of a student's career at the Institute. There, a student gains knowledge, asks questions, makes presentations, and interacts with the subject matter under the guidance of faculty. Professors vary in their teaching styles, just as students vary in their learning styles. There is evidence that these differences are correlated with differences in gender. When a match occurs, the learning process is facilitated and occurs most efficiently. A student with a different style of learning may feel uncomfortable under faculty with radically different teaching styles. Faculty should have an increased opportunity to participate in teaching master's workshops where they can experiment with new techniques and learn about how to work with a variety of teaching and learning styles. A more diverse faculty, with more diverse teaching styles, would go a long way toward improving the quality of teaching for all students.