In July of 1996, President Charles M. Vest appointed the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning to undertake a comprehensive review of the Institute's educational mission and its implementation. The last review of this scope was carried out by the 1949 Committee on Educational Survey, known as the Lewis Commission, which examined MIT's education in light of the changes taking place in the aftermath of World War II.
Fifty years later, MIT has reached another historic crossroads: science, technology, and human organization are all undergoing rapid and dramatic changes. The present technical and political forces parallel those at key points in MIT's history. The information revolution, even in its infancy, has changed industry, economics, and society on a similar scale as the industrial revolution, which precipitated MIT's founding. Information technology introduces new methods for teaching and reduces the barrier of distance, challenging residence-based education. Investment in science and technology has shifted from a national defense basis to one encompassing economic viability, environmental concerns, and health care. Finally, students who come to MIT will participate in an increasingly global economy, whatever their career choices, and more leadership will be expected of them. The Task Force was charged with determining how an MIT education should reflect these changes.
In addition to technical and societal factors, the Task Force has considered the complex nature of problems facing society today, concluding that technical and scientific problem-solving must be linked with a broad, sophisticated understanding of these complexities. For our graduates to serve the needs of today's society, they must have an education that prepares them to handle such problems with flexibility and confidence.
MIT must also consider the changing demographic factors that impact student life and learning. The MIT community of students, faculty, and staff will continue to diversify as it has for the past several decades. The career trajectories of our alumni are also changing. Due to longer working lifetimes and the rapid pace of technical and social change, we must prepare our students to be successful in multiple career roles.
Finally, economic forces also motivate MIT to evaluate its educational mission, markets, and processes. The real costs of higher education will continue to rise, outpacing tuition and government sponsorship. Historically, the educational and research missions of the Institute have been of sufficient national priority that the federal government made significant investments in MIT; the endowment filled the gap between outlays and revenue from tuition and sponsored research. Today, budget pressures and shifting national priorities have decreased the commitment of the federal government to higher education in general, and to MIT in particular. Hence MIT must look strategically at its educational mission. An MIT education must be valuable enough to warrant the investment of our future students, sponsors, and donors.
1.2 Task Force Charge
In light of these historical and current forces for change, the Task Force on Student Life and Learning was charged with the following four goals:
1.3 Task Force Process
Following its creation in July, 1996, the Task Force began its review by gathering input on strategic issues related to student life and learning. The Task Force's members examined a multitude of historical and current reports, analyzed numerical data, and conducted surveys of students, faculty, and alumni. The Task Force organized a special event for junior faculty, and held internal meetings with a variety of MIT administrators, sponsors, and faculty committees. Members participated in the 1997 retreat hosted by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, and met with department and school heads and other undergraduate officers while there. Members also met and corresponded with hundreds of other groups and individuals inside and outside of MIT. Sources of input included faculty, students, student organizations, staff members, Institute committees, alumni, and external individuals and organizations.
The Student Advisory Committee to the Task Force, composed of roughly two dozen graduate and undergraduate members, met regularly during the two years when the Task Force was active, providing it with substantial input and feedback. The Student Advisory Committee published a preliminary report in the summer of 1997 and a final report, entitled "Putting Education First," in the spring of 1998, both of which articulated how the concept of an educational triad composed of academics, research, and community could be implemented at MIT. The Task Force has endorsed the educational triad concept, and it is included here as one of the eleven principles of MIT.
The input received by the Task Force has been enormously valuable, and it has shaped every part of this report. Like the Lewis Commission before it, the Task Force has found the task of examining MIT's educational processes as a whole to be both daunting and enlightening. It is our hope that this kind of examination will become a more regular activity at MIT, and that those who have met with the Task Force to discuss strategic issues will continue to be engaged by members of the faculty and administration who implement the Task Force's recommendations.
1.4 MIT's Educational Mission
The first item in the Task Force's charge was to develop a statement of MIT's educational mission. The Task Force has reviewed the mission statements of the Institute's various departments and units, as well as the Policies and Procedures of the Institute, and has identified the principles that define it as an institution devoted to education and research. The following is the Task Force's formulation of MIT's educational mission:
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is devoted to the advancement of knowledge and education of students in areas that contribute to or prosper in an environment of science and technology. Its mission is to contribute to society through excellence in education, research, and public service, drawing on core strengths in science, engineering, architecture, humanities and social sciences, and management. This mission is accomplished by an educational program combining rigorous academic study and the excitement of research with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community.
1.5 The Eleven Principles
A mission statement can only go so far in defining an organization as complex as a modern university. MIT stands out, but what makes it unique among its peer institutions? Part of what has made MIT an effective and coherent educational institution is a common ethos and set of educational principles. But MIT has been a dynamic institution as well, and its ethos and practices have grown and changed to meet the needs of society. The Task Force has identified a set of eleven principles that define MIT. Four of these principles derive from the vision of MIT's founder, William Barton Rogers. A second group of four principles was articulated by the Lewis Commission in 1949. The Task Force has contributed a third set of three principles. We believe that these eleven principles will help carry MIT's mission into the next century.
1.6 The Founding Principles
Principle 1: The educational value of useful knowledge
The central principle of MIT's founding was the educational value of what William Barton Rogers called "useful knowledge." In a clear dissent from the common view of higher education of his day, Rogers believed that in an industrial society science and technology were legitimate foundations of higher knowledge, and that students would benefit from the motivation of striving toward a useful goal.1 Today, the value of education based on useful knowledge is accepted worldwide.
Principle 2: Societal responsibility
When Rogers founded MIT in 1861, one of his key principles was that "a place must be made for the young man [or woman] who wishes to apply the fruits of scientific discovery to the satisfaction of human wants."2 Employing "useful knowledge" to harness the power of technology was at the heart of MIT's important contribution to society in the latter half of the 19th century. Today, the goal of discovering and applying knowledge for the benefit of society remains at the center of MIT's mission.
Principle 3: Learning-by-doing
The principle of learning-by-doing was a third founding principle of MIT. Rogers believed that students should appreciate concrete conclusions drawn from factual data. He emphasized active learning through which students must seek out new information, thereby converting personal experience into knowledge.3 Since its founding, MIT has been a leader in the educational use of laboratories, shops and computational resources, as well as the inclusion of undergraduates in research activities. Today, MIT remains committed to the principle of learning-by-doing.
Principle 4: Combining a liberal education with a professional education
From its founding MIT has sought to provide a balanced education which combines professional education at the undergraduate level with components of a liberal education. Rogers believed that the development of technical proficiency was not enough, and that higher education ought to enable a person to participate effectively in "the humane culture of the community."4 An integral educational program that balances quantitatively or analytically based professional education with liberal education continues to be a principle of undergraduate education at MIT.
1.7 The Lewis Principles
Principle 5: Education as preparation for life
Education is more than intellectual development: as the Lewis Commission noted, "education is preparation for life."5 To provide students with an education that better prepared engineers to function as professionals, the Lewis Commission recommended that MIT broaden the curriculum and the create a School of Humanities and Social Science. The Lewis Commission recognized that the total environment in which a student's education takes place is important, and it remains so today.
Principle 6: The value of fundamentals
The Lewis Commission emphasized that a technical or professional education should be based on the fundamental principles in each field, quoting Rogers, who wrote, "The most truly practical education, even in an industrial point of view, is one founded on a thorough knowledge of scientific laws and principles."6 MIT has consistently strived to keep its educational programs focused on the fundamental principles which underlie the specific field of study. Keeping the curriculum focused and constrained has been a constant challenge. The continuing expansion of knowledge creates pressure to expand the curriculum. The information revolution exacerbates the need to focus on fundamentals. Because information will be cheap in the future, our students will need a fundamental basis to evaluate information and apply knowledge.
Principle 7: Excellence and limited objectives
The Lewis Commission articulated the principle of excellence and limited objectives to help guide the expansion of MIT that followed World War II. The principle was stated in three parts: "First, in accordance with Rogers' belief in the dignity of useful knowledge, the educational program has been designed at all times to fit men [and women] for direct contribution to the needs of the society of their day. Second, effort has been limited to fields that could contribute to or profit from an environment in which the predominant concern is with science and technology. Third, major activity has been confined at all times to those fields in which there appeared to be opportunity for the Institute to use its resources effectively." 7
Principle 8: Unity of the Faculty
One attribute that distinguishes MIT is a single Institute-wide Faculty. This unity of the Faculty is based on mutual professional respect and a shared educational responsibility. As the Lewis Commission stated, "there is a common Faculty responsibility for educational policy and operations in all phases of educational work at the Institute."8 The Commission affirmed that the entire MIT Faculty was responsible for the education of undergraduate students. The reasons for this are twofold: first to ensure that the undergraduate program is balanced, and, second, to ensure that the undergraduate program keeps pace with intellectual frontiers represented by the research activities of the entire Faculty.
1.8 Task Force Principles
Principle 9: An integrated educational triad of academics, research, and community
An MIT education should prepare students for life through an educational triad composed of academics, research, and community. Academics establish a place for rigorous study of the fundamentals of science, engineering, social science, and the humanities, as well as a format for developing problem-solving skills, familiarity with quantitative and qualitative analysis, historical and literary insight, and an understanding of the scientific method. Participation in research develops both the foundation for professional competence and the opportunity for learning-by-doing. Through interaction with faculty and students within the community, students become familiar with the responsibilities of citizenship, hone communication and leadership skills, and gain self-mastery. Although each component of the triad is a distinct area of a student's education, the contribution of each reinforces and adds to that of the others. To provide a uniquely excellent education, MIT must bring students and faculty together to learn from one another through academics, research, and community
Principle 10: Intensity, curiosity, and excitement
One of the fundamental principles of an MIT education is the intensity, curiosity, and excitement which, in part, define the ethos of the Institute and propagate into all of its educational activities. Intensity, curiosity, and excitement are an important part of the MIT experience, and more than anything else they represent a shared rite of passage for its students and faculty. Although some aspects of the curriculum's pace and pressure should be examined and revised to ensure that student time is allocated wisely, MIT recognizes that the overall level of intensity, curiosity, and excitement represents a defining value of the Institute, and of an MIT education.
Principle 11: The Importance of Diversity
The Task Force believes that diversity of the students, faculty and staff of the Institute is critical to the educational mission. MIT has always been and should remain a meritocracy where intellectual achievement and capability are paramount. Within this context, diversity of the community will serve to enhance the educational experience through interaction and exposure of people with different experiences, beliefs and perspectives. This will become an increasingly important aspect of the educational experience as society and industry become more diverse and international. In striving to encourage diversity within its community, MIT must also strive to maintain an environment in which such diversity is appreciated and every student has a sense of place.
1.9 ConclusionThese eleven educational principles define MIT as an institution, and the mission statement developed here charts a general course for the future. In the following chapters of this report, the Task Force responds to its charge to evaluate MIT's educational processes and recommend changes to them.