MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 5
May/June 2005
Provost Responds to
Professor Postol's Allegations
International Students and Scholars:
A Legacy for MIT and the U.S.
Lorna Gibson New Chair of the Faculty
Back to the Future
Academic Expectations
Strengthening TA Training
Faculty Mentor Program:
A Growing Success
Advising and Mentoring of Undergraduates
Mission to Banda Aceh:
Excerpts from a Journal
Summer Without Summering;
Slave Huts, Bonaire
The Purpose of Poetry
Survey Says:
Faculty Approve of Updated Lunch Program
Alumni Attitudes and Involvement
Tenure and Promotion
[from the 2004 Faculty Survey]
Have you ever considered leaving MIT? [from the 2004 Faculty Survey]
Printable Version

From The Faculty Chair

Back to the Future

Rafael L. Bras

It is the year 2061, and MIT is preparing to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of its founding. President Patricia Arroyo, past winner of the National Academy of Engineering's Charles Draper Prize for innovation in engineering and technology and former presidential science advisor, is reviewing historical material in her office; naturally, it's all digitized.

MIT is doing very well. It remains the foremost university with focus on science and technology in the world. The emphasis is on university. The educational commons revision of 2006 set in motion a series of fundamental changes in the curriculum that blurred the distinction between science and engineering and integrated social sciences and humanities into a new liberal science and engineering education. The Institute's financial strength has made our need blind admission policy for undergraduates even more generous. "Self help" has been eliminated, so students with financial aid no longer have an academic disadvantage by having to work during the week. MIT is finally fully competitive with our peers in attracting the best minds to the student body.

MIT's educational partners worldwide are also enjoying the well-defined, and encouraged, student exchange programs. Students are truly becoming citizens of the world.

The Graduate School is providing improved services to our graduate students and making sure that policies of recruitment and balance with undergraduate activities are followed. In fact, undergraduate-graduate education has become a seamless continuum.

The first professional engineering degree is now the Masters. All first-year graduate students are now supported by fellowships managed by the School.

MIT faculty are still working incredibly long hours. Nevertheless the housing program, providing incentives to live close to campus, helps eliminate the wasted and aggravating commuting time for many. It has been amazing how this influx into the Cambridge area has also resulted in an improvement of the city and its school system; we always knew these things were connected. In fact, the mixed use – commercial, dormitories and faculty housing – of the renovated University Park has been an extraordinary success. Needless to say, the integrated child-care facilities, modeled after the most successful part of the recently replaced Stata Center, go a long way toward improving the quality of life of the faculty.

Along with its international partners, MIT has aggressively pursued the betterment of education and well-being in less-developed countries. Technology and science are truly agents of change and empowerment. MIT has come a long way since its first OpenCourseware initiative. MIT's ideas now help feed those hungry for food, not only those hungry for knowledge.

President Arroyo recalls fondly the spirited and illuminating faculty meeting debates that led to the adoption of the concept of international partners. She was then a new faculty member and was truly taken by the openness, honesty, and depth of the various arguments. Given all that had transpired in the meeting, she was really surprised at the overwhelming support that the measure received once the electronic voting was completed.

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That experience inspired her to get involved in faculty governance. The following year she put her name forward as a candidate to the Standing Committee on International Relationships. She was delighted when she was elected.

By that time, 2036, she felt comfortable and secure as a woman of color faculty member at MIT. The faculty was then nearly 50 percent women and 25 percent formerly "underrepresented minorities." It was hard to imagine how it must have been when the first woman president of MIT, Susan Hockfield, took office on December 6th of 2004. President Arroyo was not even born at that point! What a thrill it must have been for all of those involved.

Patricia had read about the search process that led to Hockfield's selection. It was a model of collaboration among all stakeholders: students, staff, faculty, and trustees. She read about Friedman, the Nobel Prize winner, who led the Faculty Advisory Committee. And Champy, the ultimate volunteer, who led the Corporation Committee on the Presidency. She also heard of Mead, the then new Chairman of the Corporation, who was key to making the process work. And she read about Manning, Rizzoli, and Bras, the officers of the faculty at the time. How did they come up with this unlikely trio of a woman and two (then) minorities? They are all long gone, mostly forgotten, but she knew they had fun.

Among the items found during the latest remodeling of her office, 3-208, were a plastic pocket protector (how quaint) presented to then President Hockfield; a golden hammer inscribed with the name Lorna Gibson, the then incoming Chair of the Faculty (2005-2007), and a toilet plunger painted in gold with reference to some sort of award given to efficient staff. It must all have been a private joke, she thought. They had fun.

The style and idea for this article came from a talk I gave after 9/11/2001, entitled: "A Vision of the Future" (Strategies for Civil Engineering Research, ASCE Conference and Exposition, October 10-13, 2001, Houston, Texas). After I finished writing this article, Newsletter Managing Editor David Lewis called and pointed out the similarity with "MIT 2040," the editorial by Erik Demaine and Olivier de Weck, in the March/April 2005 Faculty Newsletter . I had not yet read their piece, but upon doing so I agreed; the similarity is eerie! The difference is that they were imagining a future, while I am playing a back-to-the-future theme, trying to speculate about how some of the events of my tenure as Chair of the Faculty may affect the future (just in case you missed it!). It is nevertheless amazing that not only the style, but also common themes appeared in both pieces. I am honored to be in such youthful and inspired company.

Anyway, as the article says: we had fun; I had fun. Thank you very much for the opportunity to serve.

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