The word "community" has many connotations, each appropriate to its own sphere. Even at MIT the word has taken on a variety of meanings: there is the student community, the faculty community, and the MIT community -- the latter including everyone from alumni to the immediate families of students and faculty members. Before presenting the Task Force's findings on community, the term must be defined. Here the term has a specific meaning: "community" refers to students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have come together on campus for the common purpose of developing the qualities that define the educated individual. Establishing a critical mass of intelligent people dedicated to excellence in everything they do is central to MIT's mission. Each of us is an example to our peers and colleagues; through professional, recreational, and social interaction with one another we build a culture of discovery and learning that distinguishes MIT from other universities. Hence informal personal interaction can be considered the life of the "community": student activities, casual social get-togethers, cultural events, and daily encounters with friends and colleagues are a few general categories of such interaction.
If the goal of an MIT education is to develop the elements of reason, knowledge, and wisdom that characterize the educated individual, MIT cannot rely on structured learning alone. In the past, MIT has drawn upon the research university model of Von Humboldt, who proposed educating students by exploiting the informal interaction between research and academic study. In the future, the third element of the triad -- community -- will play a larger educational role.
Two forces are driving this change. First, informal learning-by-doing through peer interaction at the community level can properly develop in students many qualities of the educated individual. Community interaction is an excellent preparation for life: paired with MIT's formal curriculum, it is a means to develop communication skills and the ability to think critically about societal issues, and it provides experience with cultural and intellectual diversity. Second, the accelerating changes of the information revolution are eroding the boundaries of place and organization. To add value to a technical education available elsewhere, MIT will increasingly have to rely on the value it can deliver by combining informal, community-based learning with structured, curriculum-based learning. The challenge facing MIT is twofold: First, how can we do more within the community we have? Second, how can we unite the learning that takes place in the community with the learning available elsewhere?
4.2 Findings: Strengths
MIT's present community has many strengths MIT should draw upon in an effort to augment its educational value.
1. Loyalty to Residence
A prominent feature of MIT's community is the strong feeling of loyalty that undergraduate students express toward their MIT residences or living groups. Residences at MIT are not just places of repose: in undergraduate life they are the central unit of student organization, and they act as a haven for social, cultural, and intellectual exchange among students. In surveys, students express a remarkably high level of satisfaction with their residential experience, particularly with the fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.14 Residences also provide a strong academic and social support group. Students from multiple graduating classes share the same living group, providing valuable opportunities for advising and mentoring.
2. Independence of Community Groups
The community ties that have arisen at MIT have done so with little conscious design or plan, and they have remained largely self-sustaining and autonomous. In its commitment to individual responsibility, free choice, and self-governance, MIT's community resembles society at large in many respects. Undergraduate students, who come to the Institute at a critical point in their personal development, benefit from the gradual but intense exposure to the independence and responsibility expected of them here. By interacting with their peers and colleagues within a framework of independence and interdependence, MIT students help fulfill the Institute's principle of learning-by-doing.
3. Diversity of Existing Community Groups
The large number of activities and groups is another strength of the MIT community. These include social activities tied to departments and living groups, performance and artistic ensembles, cultural societies, political groups, student government, community-service groups, athletic and recreational activities, student publications, and many other activities. The dedication and commitment displayed by students and faculty who participate in community activities is impressive given the demands of research and academics, and this dedication is more impressive given that such activities often go begging for funds and are seldom promoted outside their own venue. That such a system has evolved at MIT is a testament to the drive and diversity of interest found among those who are drawn to the Institute.
MIT has demonstrated a positive and ongoing commitment to providing facilities, resources, and staff to maintaining a strong number of athletic activities. Partly as a result of this commitment, athletics play a powerful role in bringing students and faculty from across campus together in activities that teach teamwork, build self-confidence, and encourage perseverance, dedication, and personal fitness. MIT is now committed to building new athletic facilities, and to continuing its commitment to ensuring all MIT students have the opportunity to participate in athletics on campus. Overall, MIT's commitment to athletics plays an admirable role in fostering interaction among diverse members of the community.
5. MIT Staff
Although this report's findings focus primarily on faculty and students, it is important to remark upon the educational role played by MIT's dedicated staff members. Staff excellence is an integral part of today's MIT community. Across the Institute, in departments, programs, and administrative offices, staff members manage and run programs that contribute directly to student life and learning. Many staff members as advisors and mentors to students, and MIT's staff as a whole contribute to the Institute's educational mission in ways that go beyond their administrative functions. The Task Force has met and worked with numerous MIT staff members in the past two years, and this has reinforced the Task Force's feeling that staff play a tremendously positive role in keeping the MIT community together.
4.3 Findings: Weaknesses
At the same time, many obstacles stand in the way of integrating the educational benefits of community activities with more structured learning.
1. Faculty Commitments
All activities at the Institute, including undergraduate education, revolve around the simple fact that MIT is a preeminent research university and a national and international resource. Research, teaching, professional commitments, family, and governance all result in significant time pressure for faculty. Time pressures have negative implications for interaction among faculty members, and there is little recognition of faculty who participate in community activities. There is a tendency for most faculty to treat community activity as the residual left over when everything else has been done.
2. Student Commitments
Students are equally beset by the time pressures of academic study. With little positive incentive to go beyond the Institute's academic requirements, students may conclude that "extra-curricular activities" are indeed extraneous and dispensable. This is not to say that students do not participate -- they do. But although student participation in community activities is high, students may take these activities less seriously than if they were held in higher esteem.
In addition, entering students are presented with an abundance of choices and demands upon their time. It is the responsibility of MIT to communicate opportunities in a way that helps students manage their time effectively. Students should be inspired, not overwhelmed, by the opportunities presented to them.
3. Weak Campus-wide Community
Another possible obstacle to integrating formal and informal learning is the weakness of the campus-wide community. Many social interactions on campus take place in living groups, departments, or laboratories. Graduate and undergraduate students have few opportunities for informal interaction with each other, and students and faculty have even fewer. There is a sharp divide between the graduate student body and the undergraduate student body. Finally, MIT lacks a strong sense of Institute-wide faculty collegiality: faculty members have relatively few opportunities to interact with their colleagues in different departments.
The strength of MIT's diverse sub-communities has already been noted. However, the defects of the current situation are notable. First, the Institute's support structures have become fragmented and crisis-oriented. While many students receive ample interpersonal and professional support, many others fall through the cracks. Second, the divisions among campus groups -- such as among living groups, or between graduates and undergraduates -- sometimes leads to intolerance and lack of understanding not in keeping with MIT's principle of diversity. Third, the physical design of the campus, which has evolved around its nuclear academic, community, and research groups, lacks space for community-wide interaction.
It is through orientation that the existing community passes on its values to its newest initiates. Yet MIT lacks an effective orientation for all segments of the community. In general, undergraduate orientation concentrates too heavily on living group selection: the way undergraduates are asked to make immediate choices about living arrangements obscures larger choices and more important values. By and large, the current system of undergraduate orientation detracts from the sense of an overall community at MIT, and discourages faculty-student interaction. At the same time, entering graduate students receive a truncated orientation to the educational mission of MIT, new faculty do not always appreciate key cultural and historical features of the Institute, and new staff members often do not get the sense that they are entering into the support of an educational enterprise. MIT is a special place, with a distinct mission, history, and culture. Yet as the Institute has grown and become more complex, the mechanisms to transmit the sense of MIT as a whole community have atrophied.
5. Campus residences
A shortage of housing for both graduate and undergraduate populations has also presented difficulties. On the graduate side, although 50 percent request on-campus housing, only 30 percent can be accommodated. Recent increases in Cambridge housing prices have negatively affected the ability of MIT to compete for graduate students. In addition, a significant subset of graduate students desire a more programmed residential experience: the thoughtful programs that exist at Ashdown House are an example of how to bring about a strong sense of community among graduate students. Such housing is closely aligned to MIT's educational mission. In all cases, graduate student housing should be designed with close access to MIT's academic and research communities in mind, as well as access to junior and senior faculty.
MIT has long acknowledged the special value of the housing system for undergraduate education.15 However, the educational mission of the housing system has been hampered by a lack of resources and programs. Crowding has been a particularly acute problem. On-campus housing has remained crowded despite new construction over the past few decades. In general, the undergraduate system has lacked the flexibility needed to address on their merits issues concerning the design of orientation and first year housing. The system has barely coped with routine renovation and maintenance. Related programs such as dining and community spaces have also lacked resources, with negative consequences for the housing system.
The dining system is another setting in which community is created and sustained. Yet much of the dining system at MIT has been allowed to languish. Some of the dining spaces in the residences have been closed, and the remainder of the system is operated with a view to cutting costs rather than bringing people together. Yet some parts of the dining system have been successful at creating community, even in a small way. The well-designed Architecture and Planning Cafe attracts students, faculty, and staff who might have been tempted to eat lunch at their desks to a pleasant but informal common setting. The dining space at Walker Memorial brings many faculty, staff, and students on the east side of campus together. And personal cooking spaces within the residences, while they bring together smaller groups of people than dining halls, serve their function adequately. In terms of bringing diverse groups of people together, however, the dining system remains a largely underutilized resource.
7. Community Space
MIT has demonstrated a weak commitment to providing attractive and convenient space for community interaction. The lack of space for some activities, such as the performing arts, has had spillover effects with adverse consequences for other parts of student life. The degree to which students regard computer clusters as social space is symptomatic of the lack of areas where faculty and students can interact and work together. Construction of new community space, including performance space and athletic facilities, student activity space, and general event space would help MIT remain competitive in attracting top students and relieve pressure on an otherwise overloaded system.
8. The Performing Arts
The lack of space for the performing arts has been an issue both for the arts, and for student life in general. The performing arts serve a number of important educational functions. They provide a venue for community interaction, centered on cultural enrichment and enjoyment. Student participation in these activities is one avenue for learning-by-doing, and it enriches the cultural life at MIT. Yet the decreasing availability to students of performance and rehearsal spaces impairs the Institute's ability to create a rich, nurturing, and consistent educational experience. Faced with increased competition for Kresge Auditorium, large groups such as the MIT Symphony Orchestra and the theater groups must now reserve Kresge three years in advance. Given current projections, in five years Kresge will have to be reserved four or five years in advance -- before the students who will use it even graduate from high school. Short of performance and rehearsal space, many performance groups have taken over space intended for student activities, putting additional unwarranted pressure on student activities space.
Performing programs have proven their value to the MIT educational experience by drawing together the wider MIT community, breaking down social barriers, and providing opportunities for self-expression, growth, and leadership. Their excellence attracts students who have been accepted to the finest arts schools in the country. Failure to address the problem of lack of performance space will undoubtedly affect the quality of performance programs and their ability to attract students and maintain faculty.
4.4 Findings: The Future
Bringing the community side of the triad to the same standard of excellence as research and academics requires a new commitment to community by MIT. Just as MIT's high-quality teaching and research enterprises are sustained, the successful contribution of community life to education requires MIT to marshal three types of resources -- physical, human, and programmatic. For it to stand alongside teaching and research as part of the educational triad, the Institute must ensure that the resources devoted to community involvement are first-rate and suited to the task of educating MIT students.
Of the many difficult design problems MIT faces, promoting student and faculty participation in community activities is probably the most difficult. Nevertheless, given the goal of developing in students the attributes of educated individuals, the Task Force finds that the responsibilities of the faculty include participation in community, balanced properly with research and teaching. Student and faculty participation in community activities should be recognized along with achievements in academics and research. It is the responsibility of the Institute as a whole to ensure that the residence system (both graduate and undergraduate), dining arrangements, orientation programs, and physical layout of the campus encourage faculty-student interaction.
4.5 Community Recommendations
1. Recognize faculty members and students who become involved in community activities.
If participation in the community is to become an integral part of the MIT experience, in accordance with the principle of the educational triad, the Institute must explore ways to recognize participation in the community appropriate to its educational role. Increased contact between students and faculty can help: students' priorities are partly determined by shared cultural values that can be transmitted through informal interaction. There is also a need for formal recognition. MIT might recognize student participation by listing selected activities on student transcripts. There should also be recognition for faculty participation in the community. For faculty, involvement in the community must be considered a part of good teaching. Community participation should be considered in the tenure, promotion, and performance review process as part of a faculty member's teaching record.
2. Make the residence system an integral part of MIT's education, and approach the issues of housing, dining, the first-year program, and orientation as part of a single educational program.
The residence system is at the heart of the MIT community. If MIT is to unite the three areas of the triad, it must inevitably begin with a conscientious approach to the design and programming of the residence system. The physical design of new housing, the advising and support structure within the residences, the dining system, the first-year program, orientation, and provision for new graduate, undergraduate, and faculty housing are all interdependent. A strategic approach to these issues is essential to making MIT's educational triad work; if they are approached separately, MIT will ultimately fail to bring about a coherent integration of community with research and academics.
To maximize the housing system's educational value, housing facilities for graduate students, undergraduates, and faculty should be properly supported with Institute funds. Costs associated with improving the housing system should be considered in terms of educational value in addition to customer service. This implies construction of new undergraduate and graduate housing -- projects that have been delayed for too long. In general, the housing system should be flexible enough to address issues related to undergraduate education on their merits.
3. Phase in a system in which all undergraduate students are housed in residence halls during the first year.
A housing system in which all freshmen live in residence halls has distinct advantages, including the opportunity to build up the sense of an Institute-wide community through first-year programs, as well as to unite the three elements of the educational triad. It would encourage students to familiarize themselves with the MIT experience as a whole while developing ties to a residence. Combined with a well-designed first-year program and increased faculty-student interaction, housing freshmen in residence halls also offers a way to ease the transition to life in the MIT community. The need for a transition to life at MIT has long since been recognized in academics, where the design of the core curriculum, advising, and grades all help ease the transition to MIT's academic program.
As has been noted, however, the current system of housing in fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups (FSILGs) has many strengths. By providing more housing options, MIT makes room for the diversity of student tastes and needs. Smaller living groups such as FSILGs provide different ways of giving students intellectual, academic, and emotional support, as well as creating different venues for developing a strong sense of community. If we do not take care to preserve these strengths during the transition, housing all freshmen on campus could result in a system much worse than today's.
To preserve the strong community spirit developed in the existing FSILG system, MIT should take steps to enable its FSILGs to survive as residences. In the short term, it may be necessary to provide some temporary financial support to FSILGs to offset lost occupancy.
Housing freshmen with older students provides incoming students with academic and emotional guidance and support, as well as a ready supply of role-models and mentors. For this reason, incoming students should be placed in the same residence halls as older students, rather than in a residence constructed exclusively for freshmen. In addition, MIT should take steps to bring advising -- particularly freshman advising -- into the residences to provide broader intellectual and professional support in an informal setting.
4. Make orientation about bringing undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty together into a shared experience.
The central purpose of orientation should be to create the feeling of joining a single, campus-wide community. Freshman orientation should consist of a program that continues throughout the first year, and should be filled with experiences that establish a connection between incoming students and experiences in academics, research, and community. To do this, there should be more activities that involve faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students in shared experiences. In all parts of orientation there should be an equal role for academics, research, and community. Orientation events must be more than pro forma exercises to be endured. If each orientation experience has a constructive purpose, students could be expected to take them seriously.
5. Design the housing system to better encourage faculty-student interaction.
The housing system should enable and encourage faculty-student interaction. Ideally, informal faculty-student interaction over topics related to academics, research, and community should take place across campus, in nearly every space inhabited by students and faculty during the course of the day. For this to take place, MIT must take every opportunity to encourage faculty to interact informally with students in the residences, and appropriate common spaces should be available to make this possible.
The issue of faculty and staff housing is critical both for MIT's competitive situation and for the creation of a lively community on the MIT campus. Given the time pressures experienced by both students and faculty members, informal interaction is more likely to occur among faculty members and students who live near one another. All new student on-campus residential construction and renovation should include provisions for increased faculty housing, in addition to housemaster accommodations, to seed a more active on-campus intellectual community after hours. The Task Force expects that on-campus housing will be most attractive to junior faculty, senior faculty, visiting scholars, and other scholars who are new to MIT and have limited family obligations. The Institute should also explore strategies for encouraging more MIT faculty to live in Cambridge and adjoining sections of Boston.
6. Design the dining system to encourage community interaction.
The dining system offers one of the most attractive venues for fostering a greater sense of community at MIT. It goes without saying that a university's dining system should provide healthy, attractive, and affordable dining options. MIT's system should do more: it should be run with the goal of bringing people together for informal social interaction. Ways to encourage this interaction include reopening the dining halls in the residences where they were closed, designing and maintaining of cooking facilities to encourage interaction, and constructing new dining facilities in common spaces throughout campus where people are likely to congregate and socialize.16
Residential dining halls should be used actively to promote small-scale, informal community activities. The Dean's Office should coordinate the invitation of faculty and administrative staff to informal dinners where students might explore topics like choice of major, choice of careers, and discussions of current events. The Dean's Office should also explore strategies for encouraging faculty and administrative staff to periodically eat dinner in the residential dining halls as an effort to break down social barriers among students, faculty, and staff.
7. Provide more attractive and convenient spaces for community interaction.
All programs aimed at bringing faculty and students together over academics, research, and community activities will ultimately fail if there are not enough attractive spaces for such interactions to occur. MIT's design should encourage faculty and students to linger in areas they visit in common. All aspects of MIT's design -- from laboratories, classrooms, and office areas, to dining, performance space, library space, and housing -- should include space for informal interaction. Wherever possible, spaces for formal and informal activities should be intertwined.
Above all, more resources should be devoted to creating new common spaces and retrofitting existing facilities to create common space. Priorities should include building more performance space, bringing more casual dining options into areas where people might congregate, and creating space for informal faculty-student interaction in the residences.
8. Provide more funding for activities that encourage community interaction.
As has been noted, MIT has many strong groups that play an important educational role in today's community. Participation in community activities can serve as a means to bring students and faculty together in informal settings. Providing student activities and other community groups with appropriate funding is consistent with MIT's educational mission.