6.1 The Need for Change

The Task Force on Student Life and Learning began with a charge from the President to articulate MIT's educational mission and develop a plan of action in accordance with it. Like many institutions of higher learning, the MIT community has a strong democratic ethos, hence we hope and expect that the release of this report will bring about new discussions and conversations on and off campus among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other friends of the Institute. The responsibility of growing, adapting, and shaping MIT is the responsibility of all members of the community, for we all have a stake in its future.

In many ways, the discussions and conversations that follow this report will be a continuation of those that have come before. The two years during which the Task Force conducted its study have been a time of difficult reflection for MIT, and in some ways the Task Force was lucky to have arisen during this time to gather different strands of thought into what we hope is a coherent vision for the future. After all, underlying the Task Force's charge was a challenge to help the community come to terms with its own future. The Task Force hopes that the recommendations that have emerged in its study will not be thought of as separate points, but rather as an overall model of MIT's role in society, as guided and shaped by its mission and principles.

To live up to its principles, MIT must change and adapt to meet the needs of society. The central finding of this report is that today's society requires MIT to provide an education that merges student life and learning into a unified whole. To accomplish this joining of heretofore separate realms, change will be needed on many levels, from decisions taken by the administration to attitudes held by individual students and faculty. Although this report contains many specific strategic and structural actions, a handful of decisions will not suffice to bring about the change envisioned here.

6.2 A Cultural Shift

A cultural shift is needed at MIT. It is a shift

from demanding separation of student life and learning
to demanding they be inseparable,

from focusing on formal education
to emphasizing learning in both formal and informal settings,

from a community divided by place, field, and status
to a community unified by its commitment to learning,

from keeping research, academics, and community apart
to unifying the educational value each provides.

It would be unreasonable to expect a change in community values to come about overnight, or as the result of a single activity. Tough strategic choices can provide guidance and incentive for change. Given MIT's culture of democracy and scholarly debate, such leadership appears daunting at first, but our history offers abundant precedents for making dramatic changes in educational processes while maintaining a focus on science and technology. Beginning with its founding over a century ago, and continuing with the Lewis Commission after World War II, MIT has built a legacy of meeting the needs of society by adapting where necessary.

The integration of MIT's formal and informal educational processes, and of the three areas of the triad, is not just a necessity we must grudgingly accept, for it also opens bright prospects for the future. MIT is a preeminent educational institution today because at key points in its history it took great strides beyond what had been tried or done. Today's need for change presents the opportunity for another leap forward, and a chance to make MIT the same guiding light for higher education in the 21st century as it has been in the 20th.