5.1 Vision

During its review of MIT's educational processes, the Task Force has identified several fundamental strategic and structural dilemmas that must be addressed for MIT to fulfill its educational mission. The President has recognized some of these problems, and it has responded by appointing a Chancellor who will assume much of the responsibility for implementing and overseeing MIT's strategic educational vision. Because so much of this report's recommendations relate to the problems with MIT's current structure, the Task Force has chosen to present its findings regarding these issues under a separate heading, along with recommendations for how MIT might proceed.

5.2 Findings: The Structural Dilemma

The central structural dilemma at MIT lies in the tension between Institute-wide objectives and the heretofore largely independent schools and departments. Many of MIT's organizational problems can be traced back to tensions created when management and resources need to cross organizational boundaries.

1. Strengths of departmental management

Schools and departments are adept at allocating resources, fostering excellence in research, building new graduate programs, and designing rigorous undergraduate departmental curricula. Because resource allocation largely falls to departments, they must practice a version of MIT's principle of excellence and limited objectives internally by expending staffing and financial resources in areas where they can be most effective.

Moreover, departments bear the heavy responsibility of maintaining the reputation of their own research activities. This demand impels departments to seek out the best faculty, and also helps them design graduate and undergraduate curricula to meet the current needs of the field. This advantage of departmental management is crucial, because ultimately the continued success of MIT depends on its reputation. MIT's reputation for excellence in research and education allows it to attract students and faculty who will continue to enhance MIT's reputation for the future. This positive feedback cycle of excellence in students, faculty and reputation is MIT's most precious asset.17 While the principles that guide the design of an MIT education are important, they cannot succeed if MIT ceases to attract the best students and faculty.

While much of MIT's reputation for excellence in research arises from the entrepreneurial activity of the departments and laboratories, most of its educational reputation derives from more central qualities such as the overall caliber of the faculty and the rigor of MIT's curriculum. Because MIT cannot afford to let its overall reputation falter, it must strike the appropriate balance between independence and coordination in its research and educational activities.

2. Weaknesses of cross-departmental activities

Unfortunately, important educational programs that demand constant management, assessment, resources, and decisive action often fall between departments. The needs of the undergraduate program transcend departmental barriers. The first-year program and the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) are currently shared among departments, administrative offices, and faculty committees. The balance between undergraduate and graduate education is trapped in the middle of Institute and departmental governance structures. Other issues that should be treated as common Institute problems are treated in isolation. Five-year programs leading to Bachelor's and Master's degrees are almost entirely handled by individual departments, often creating tremendous logjams for students attempting to meet both Institute and departmental curricular requirements. On the undergraduate side, some departments contribute to undergraduate education through curricular offerings while others contribute more indirectly. In the future, efforts to integrate the three aspects of the educational triad will face obstacles to crossing departmental and administrative boundaries.

Some pieces of the strategic puzzle seem to fall outside of all administrative and departmental structures. The complex and overlapping faculty governance structure was identified as a problem by the Lewis Commission 50 years ago, and the situation has not improved since then. The current system of faculty committees is beset by a number of weaknesses. Turnover is one dilemma: the chairs rotate so frequently it is difficult for the committees to undertake projects of any significant time-horizon. The number of committees is a source of confusion, as is the apparent overlap in committee goals. The faculty governance structure as a whole lacks adequate resources to accomplish its mission, although recent efforts to consolidate committee support staff into a single office will help.

Faculty-student interaction, which is essential to integrating the three areas of the educational triad, also falls outside of the existing management structure. Faculty members who get involved in community activities usually do so for personal satisfaction. In general, faculty-student interaction is not rewarded unless it contributes to immediate departmental or research objectives. Without any incentives, programs, or spaces for faculty-student interaction, most faculty and students do not have time to engage in informal interaction.18

Without coordination, collaboration among groups and departments is difficult or impossible. Departments are not generally motivated to collaborate across units. Those who do engage in collaboration do so by their own initiative, making use of fortuitous contacts and friendships rather than long-term partnerships. Because initiatives tend to be entrepreneurial, they receive little or no central coordination.

Educational innovation does not exhibit the same degree of rigor and institutional commitment as MIT puts into its other endeavors. Typically, educational-technology experiments are not well documented. There is a need to review and coordinate the range of developmental initiatives being undertaken and planned by the Center for Advanced Educational Services, Information Systems (especially Academic Computing), Audio Visual Services, and the Dean's Office -- not to mention various initiatives being sponsored by schools, departments, and other units.

Funding is the area where cross-departmental projects and innovations suffer the most. Cross-department educational initiatives are often started on the margin. Successful initiatives, like the Freshman Advisory Seminars, are then expected to become part of the Institute educational program without any funding base for their support. This system of unfunded mandates hobbles cross-departmental initiatives that deserve more general Institute support.

5.4 Findings: The Strategy Dilemma

Just as the regular management and innovation activities are dominated by departmental structures, MIT's strategic-planning activities take place primarily at the level of the departments and schools. If MIT is to prepare adequately for the future, it must coordinate educational strategies at an Institute-wide level. Otherwise the Institute will continue to be held back by the many obstacles that currently stand in the way of strategic planning.

The very different ways MIT manages its undergraduate and graduate student populations helps illustrate the lack of overall strategy on one issue with major implications for every part of the Institute. MIT's undergraduate population has been relatively constant since 1975 because it is centrally managed -- central management was imposed on the undergraduate population in part because of limited housing space and MIT's strong commitment to providing housing to undergraduates. In contrast, the graduate population has grown more or less in proportion to the on-campus research expenditures of the Institute.19 Although the graduate student population has implications for just about every aspect of MIT, from housing to faculty teaching commitments, the size of the graduate population is largely determined by the research activities of the faculty within each department.

Over the years MIT's entrepreneurial culture has resulted in many individual initiatives at the department and school levels that are not necessarily coordinated or monitored for their Institute-wide strategic implications. Innovations in educational technology, which are crucial to MIT's future reputation, have already been discussed. Other cases of entrepreneurial innovation that have not been adequately followed up include the many international collaborations among departments, laboratories, schools, and the off-campus or "distance learning" educational experiments.

5.5 Market Forces

Each year market forces play a larger role in shaping higher education. There are inherent disparities between market-based values and intellectual values. Competition for certain small categories of students can deprive other worthy students of financial aid, and competition for top faculty can have a similar impact on the overall character of the faculty. Schools and departments competing for high rankings in popular American magazines may divert resources from more important activities to increase their score. Some universities may sacrifice some present educational needs to concentrate on building up their endowments, while others may choose to lessen commitments to need-blind admissions in favor of offering scholarships to attractive candidates. These dilemmas face all of the nation's top universities, including MIT. At times it will be necessary to draw the line between responding to market forces and fulfilling MIT's educational mission.

From the strategic viewpoint, there are many issues that will have a substantial impact on MIT's competitiveness in the future. Decisions now taken at the departmental level have dramatic effects on strategic issues that are crucial to MIT's future success, including MIT's reputation, student admissions, faculty recruitment, research activities, the housing system and design of the physical campus, and the cost of both graduate and undergraduate education.

One strategic problem lies in the way MIT is currently responding to the many pressures to expand both the student and the research base. This expansion is driven by the need to compensate for inflating fixed costs and the desire to undertake new intellectual initiatives. External initiatives like distance learning and strategic relationships are attractive responses to these needs, but some may be inconsistent with MIT's principle of excellence and limited objectives, as has been discussed above. Again, the problem these activities pose for the evolution of MIT's educational processes cannot be addressed without more central coordination.

In general, too many decisions at MIT are designed to maximize the benefits to the local unit, while their costs and benefits to the Institute as a whole are not sufficiently analyzed, evaluated, or monitored. MIT needs to develop an Institute-wide plan for the controlled evolution of educational programs, and to establish mechanisms that allow the Institute to monitor the effects and adjust accordingly. The Task Force is convinced that MIT's basic principles -- academic excellence, a unified faculty, and limited objectives -- cannot be maintained indefinitely without a well-defined, Institute-wide strategic planning process.

In the midst of all these changes, MIT is taking the lead in providing an education balanced between the practice of science and technology and liberal education. If successful, this will make MIT the model of a general education, giving the Institute a new competitive advantage. To achieve this goal, MIT will have to act in a more coordinated way.

5.6 Strategy & Structure Recommendations

1. Maintain MIT's excellence by continuing to focus on education and research that take place on campus.

MIT should continue to be an undergraduate and graduate research-based residential institution focused around those fields that require analytical rigor and quantitative reasoning in which it can excel and that have the potential for positive societal impact. This view is consistent with MIT's historical focus on science and technology, and has been intentionally broadened to include other areas such as economics, linguistics, music, and management. In abiding by this principle, MIT will continue to attract the best students, faculty and staff by offering an exciting mix of excellent educational and research activities that take place within a residential campus community.

2. Focus information technology resources around the library system.

In the future, developments in information technology will center around issues of content rather than facilities or equipment. The library, which has historically been the heart of the university, is the ideal place to ensure that the institution makes the appropriate investment in educational content as well as providing affordable and user-friendly access to information resources. Libraries also need to become more engaged with the teaching activities of the Institute. The library's teaching role should put less emphasis on the acquisition of information per se, and more on the need for students to acquire lifelong skills in locating, filtering, evaluating, and using effectively the wealth of information available to them.

3. Create a strategic planning group composed of the President, Provost, Chancellor, and those they may designate.

The President, the Provost, and the Chancellor should constitute the core of a strategic planning group to provide a continuous process of long-range strategic planning for MIT's educational mission. They should have considerable flexibility in determining the remaining membership and leadership of this group, and should have strong staff support that provides expertise in organizational planning and resource development. This group should interact regularly with the MIT Corporation, especially its Executive Committee.

The following are some of the key issues that need to be addressed by this strategic planning group: the balance between undergraduate and graduate enrollments; the development of new degree programs, such as the Master of Engineering degree programs, that blur the distinction between undergraduate and graduate studies; the balance between research-oriented and practice-oriented graduate degrees; the size of the faculty, and its balance with non-faculty teaching staff; the balance between residentially-based educational programs and distance learning; the analysis of markets for distance learning and other educational products and programs; the balance between MIT's U.S.-focused educational role and its international role; and maintaining the excellence of the student body, faculty, and other staff in a highly competitive environment.

4. The strategic planning group should better define how resources are allocated among departments and cross-department programs.

The President, Provost and Chancellor, with the strategic planning group, should establish well-defined mechanisms for allocating resources to physical facilities, information technologies, staff, and cross-departmental programs. Present processes do not adequately integrate the three types of demands on Institute resources: for teaching, for research, and for community-building. For each type of demand, processes for input, deliberation, and decision-making need to be defined. The strategic planning group should provide departments with incentives for accomplishing Institute goals, and should reallocate resources between departments and the central administration as needed to supply these incentives.

The Task Force recognizes that, while many of the recommendations in this report have advocated allocating resources and providing coordination to various activities, there are real limits to the ability of the Institute to support new programs. In accordance with the principle of excellence and limited objectives, the strategic planning group must determine how resources are to be reallocated, and in many cases this will require diminished support to some programs and activities. While the Task Force has found a need for more central coordination in some areas, the difficult process of reallocating of resources will properly require the input and participation of schools, departments, and individual faculty members.

5. Strengthen faculty governance by streamlining its committee structure to reflect the three areas of the educational triad.

Faculty should institute a comprehensive review of the faculty committee structure. Changes to the structure should be considered which recognize the importance of all three elements of the educational triad: academics, research and community.

The faculty committee structure should be designed so that the faculty and administration can act as a team. Ultimately, limited faculty time is the greatest constraint facing faculty governance. For this reason, the governance structure and agenda should be designed so that faculty members feel it is worthy of their time investment.