MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 3
January / February 2005
Initial Impressions
Food for Thought:
Issues for the Next 10 Years
An Open Letter to the MIT Faculty: Maintaining Integrity at MIT
Themes On Love; Like This;
Within Another Life
Some Further Thoughts on the FPC Suggestions on Faculty Governance
Aimee Smith Found Not Guilty
Quality of Life Issues at MIT
What's All This About Export Controls?
In It But Not Of It:
Nine Years in the MIT Administration
Nuclear Engineering Department
Changes Its Name
An Update on the Cambridge-MIT Institute
Teaching this spring? You should know . . .
Research Expenditures By Primary Sponsor, 1997-2004
"Please rate the following dimensions of your program" [from the Graduate Student Survey 2004]
Printable Version

Initial Impressions

Susan Hockfield

As I have begun to settle into the presidency of MIT, it has become clear to me that being named to this position is an even greater privilege than I first understood it to be. Obviously, I am still learning about the Institute – there is an inevitable information cost in moving from a place that you know very well to one that is new to you. But what has most struck me about MIT, as I have gotten to know it better, is the extraordinary depth and breadth of the excellence here.

I knew MIT's superb reputation, of course, and I had the highest respect for colleagues here in the fields I knew well from my own work. But without first-hand experience of the Institute, I could not fully appreciate the uniformity of the excellence I have now had the chance to see. The quality of research and teaching – the intellectual creativity and vibrancy of the faculty – is exceptional in every corner of the Institute. Departments here draw strength not just from one or two leading figures but from throughout their faculty as well as from collaborations within and beyond MIT.

This uniform excellence is what has made possible MIT's remarkable success in both discipline-specific and cross-disciplinary research. While we absolutely must maintain strong disciplinary foundations, I think that our continued leadership will depend even more than it has in the past on collaborations across disciplines. Since I am a creature of a collaborative culture, I am pleased that this is very much part of the air we breathe at MIT. People here have no reluctance to cross a disciplinary divide to find the ideas and resources needed to solve a particular problem or to think productively about a compelling issue.

I have also been particularly impressed by the dedication here to teaching and educational innovation. The same creativity that has made MIT a powerhouse of research innovation goes into the classroom and the teaching lab.

The role MIT has traditionally played in establishing and promulgating new curricular directions has been further advanced through our international collaborations and OpenCourseWare.

Of course, MIT's excellence is not confined to the faculty. It is equally the hallmark of students and staff. From my first meeting with the student advisory group during the search process, it was clear to me that the students here are exceptional young people, who are articulate, engaged, and passionate about what they do. Indeed, their passion is characteristic of the place. Moreover, the quality and professionalism of our administrative and research staff should be the envy of our peer institutions.

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Along with excellence, I have been struck by the tremendous sense of energy that pervades the Institute. MIT reminds me of a friend's description of Silicon Valley – as a place where everyone seems to be carrying an extra battery pack. There seems to be no limit to the enthusiasm for taking on new ideas and exploring new directions.

The passion and the energy that are so characteristic of MIT reflect the importance of the work undertaken here. The questions we tackle are deeply important to people's lives. Our ability to work at the highest levels along an unbroken continuum from theory to practice is very unusual among leading universities, and it gives us unique opportunities to make a difference in the world. Moreover, as the world has become increasingly reliant on technological innovation and the intelligent integration of technology into our lives, MIT's leadership becomes ever more important.

All of this is not to say that I don't see some challenges ahead for MIT. Seizing the great opportunities before us will require careful deployment of our financial resources. There is some good news here. The budget cuts and reductions in staff necessary over the last two years have positioned us to move forward, as they were intended to do. Still, we will need to be prudent as we pursue new ventures, not least because the environment for federal research support is once again increasingly uncertain.

Over the last decade and a half, the Institute has successfully diversified its revenue stream, relying more than ever on private support. While this has inevitably exposed us more directly to prevailing economic conditions, we must accept and manage this uncertainty going forward. With federal research budgets flat if not actually declining, we must continue to expand our current resources and explore new revenue sources if we are to maintain our institutional momentum – especially since we are competing for faculty, students, and research opportunities with the wealthiest private universities. We will need to continue our commitment to effective communication with each other so that we can wisely make the inevitably difficult choices in revenue allocation.

And we face some tough issues relating to our institutional culture. One of the most important and complicated is the challenge of creating and sustaining a truly diverse community of faculty, students, and staff. It is certainly true that MIT can be proud of what it has accomplished so far. Our undergraduates benefit from interacting with a group of peers from a remarkable variety of backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives.

And I can say from experience that MIT's commitment to women faculty has been an inspiring model to colleagues and institutions across the country. But we must do much more to translate our success at the undergraduate level to the graduate and faculty levels as well.

Obviously, this is a difficult issue within our society, and there are no quick fixes. It will take all of us, pulling together, to make progress. That is why the faculty's commitment to these issues, expressed resoundingly in the resolution adopted at the faculty meeting last May, is so important. In tackling an issue like this, the Institute's robust traditions of faculty governance, and of close collaboration between faculty and administration, are tremendous assets.

Research universities in America now also face constraints on the people and practices of research. The federal responses to important concerns about national security have slowed the flow of talented scholars from around the world to our universities and have precipitated a re-examination of information transfer in our communities. MIT must continue our engagement at the national level to guide the development of education and research policies. I am inspired by the large number of MIT faculty who participate in national service and believe that the nation and the world will be well served by MIT's continuing to engage in Washington.

MIT is, famously, a place where people love to solve problems. I know we can apply our problem-solving expertise to these and other challenges. The opportunities before us are extraordinary, and I firmly believe that we will find ways to take full advantage of them. I have much more to learn about MIT, and I will continue to welcome your insights and observations in the weeks and months ahead. Overall, my sense is that MIT has never been stronger. We are uniquely positioned to build on our traditional strengths, and to forge new directions that take advantage of new opportunities at the interfaces between the more established disciplines. This will be a tremendous adventure for all of us, and I am happier than I can say to be a part of it.

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