MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XIX No. 5
March / April 2007
The Saga of the Struggle for Survival
of the Faculty Newsletter
The Management of Change: Institute Facing Key Issues in the Immediate Future
The More Things Change
the More They Stay the Same
Getting More Learning
out of Lecture and Recitation Time
Why Diversity Matters
The Martin Luther King, Jr.
Visiting Professor Program
Desired End State: Reaching the Goal
MLK, MIT, and Me: A Personal Essay
Recruiting Underrepresented
Minority Students to MIT
Filling the Pipeline
Faith vs. Fact in the Pursuit
of Fairness at MIT
Ode to William Wells
Stephen M. Meyer
CMI – A Bold Experiment
in International Partnership
Response to Prof. Sussman's Call
for Interdisciplinary Research
Appreciation for Special Edition
Faculty Newsletter
Cutting the Pie of Undergraduate Education
Getfit@mit with the FNL
Underrepresented Minorities at MIT
MIT Faculty:
Women and Underrepresented Minorities
Printable Version

The Saga of the Struggle for Survival
of the Faculty Newsletter

For almost 19 years the MIT Faculty Newsletter (FNL) has provided a forum for expression of faculty concerns and views, a major channel of communication among the faculty, and a means for candid debate on difficult issues. The primary guiding principles have been to provide open access for faculty and emeritus faculty to express views on issues of concern through control of editorial policy by the faculty Editorial Board, independent of influence by the MIT administration.

The members of the FNL Editorial Board view the Newsletter as a critical link in the lines of communication at the Institute, because it is the only truly open vehicle for serious faculty discussion of issues that affect us all. We believe that the majority of the faculty agree with us on this point. Nonetheless, the Newsletter came perilously close to extinction over the last few months, despite concentrated efforts on the part of the Board. In this article we describe the details of that survival, because we believe that in essence it represents a reluctance of some members of the administration, to have a truly independent faculty voice present on campus. You may view the details that we present below in a different light, but we interpret them this way, and it worries us greatly, because the loss of the Faculty Newsletter would have been a detriment to MIT.

Since major MIT policy decisions are typically the consequence of the workings of joint faculty/administration committees, including nomination committees, there are considerable constraints on the ability of the faculty to pursue policy directions that diverge significantly from administration positions.

The founding of the Newsletter 19 years ago grew out of the unilateral decision of the Provost at that time to dissolve Course 20, the Department of Applied Biological Sciences, with insufficient consultation with the faculty. Other areas where the independence of the Newsletter has been important include the first public release, on our Website, of the report on the “Status of Women Faculty at MIT”; the publication of the recent Special Edition Newsletter devoted to responses to the Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons, to which more than 40 faculty contributed; exploration of health insurance, pension, and retirement issues; compacts with foreign governments; and minority recruitment and promotion.

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Since its inception, the Newsletter has been maintained by a volunteer Editorial Board, over time composed of more than 30 members of the faculty from all Schools of the Institute. The actual editorial and production work has been carried out by a Managing Editor. This position carries significant responsibility and requires a wide range of technical skills and organizational experience, in addition to deep knowledge of MIT. Since its inception, the Managing Editor of the Newsletter has been David Lewis, who is responsible for all of the organizational, editorial, layout, research, and production tasks, for both the printed and online versions.

Unlike many universities, MIT has no elected Faculty Senate or Council. Thus despite the hundreds of millions of dollars brought in to MIT by faculty, there is no faculty-controlled general budget for faculty-wide activities such as the Faculty Newsletter.

In 1996, President Vest made an agreement with the Newsletter Editorial Board that a budget for the Managing Editor’s salary and for the printing costs would be provided by the administration, with the Managing Editor continuing to report to the Chair of the Editorial Board. The agreement also called for a five-year review of the Newsletter by a joint faculty/administration committee. The review was carried out by the Graves Committee in 2002 and a report was presented to the President. That report confirmed the view of the faculty that the Newsletter had created a useful, effective, and respected medium.

The use of the FNL as an effective means of communication between the top administration and the faculty is clearly demonstrated by the frequent submissions by MIT Presidents, the Chair of the Corporation, the Provost, the Deans, and other administrators, as well as the regular column “From The Faculty Chair.” The recent Special Edition Newsletter devoted to responses to the report on curriculum demonstrates the value of bringing together a diverse set of opinions on important issues.
The success of the Newsletter over the long period of its existence clearly shows that the Managing Editor and the Editorial Board have been careful and respectful toward the issues covered, focusing on those of importance and relevance, and avoiding inaccuracy or impropriety.

By 2006, the Newsletter Managing Editor had been employed at a half-time hourly support staff level, without promotion, since the position was established. During that time he was responsible for all aspects of the production of both the printed and online Newsletter, tasks requiring a knowledgeable and mature person. Each year the demands on his time have increased, but the position has remained half time, with salary at the support staff level.

Despite this understaffing, the Newsletter has maintained the quality and character appropriate for an MIT faculty publication. Unfortunately, this lack of staffing left us unable to implement significant changes decided upon by the Editorial Board.

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At the end of the 2006 spring semester, the May/June Editorial Sub-Committee, composed of Newsletter Chair Fred Movenzadeh, Jean Jackson, Jonathan King, and Stephen Lippard, was informed by the Managing Editor of his inability to continue in his position, due to increasing financial constraints and an inappropriately low salary. The Sub-Committee then met with President Hockfield about correcting this situation.

Our proposal was simple: promote the Managing Editor to full-time administrative staff and locate the budget in the Office of the Provost, together with other Newsletter-related expenses. President Hockfield was sympathetic and believed that the situation could be resolved by late summer, after consultation with the Provost.

Despite her assurance, this issue dragged on for eight additional months. From that initial meeting in July until early November, all we learned was that the Graves Committee had been reconstituted and that they had submitted their assessment in early September. From November to February, members of the Newsletter Editorial Board were involved in dozens of meetings and e-mail exchanges with representatives of the administration. The general character of these exchanges seems to have been to prolong the final decision on our request for the promotion. Throughout this period, despite our frustration, FNL Board members participated in the negotiations in a patient and principled manner. The participating group consisted of senior faculty with decades of experience in staff appointments, development, promotions, and oversight. The length of the administration’s procrastination, the nature of the discussions between the Board members and the administration, and the repeated demand for increasingly trivial information on the part of the administration, clearly demonstrated a lack of respect and trust of the views and judgement of the senior faculty who were representing the Newsletter.

The Editorial Board was puzzled by the length and nature of the prolonged negotiations. Within a School, department, or unit, such an overdue promotion would have taken perhaps several weeks, certainly not eight months! We believe the delay represented the reluctance of individuals within the administration to accept the independence of the Faculty Newsletter.

The matter was finally resolved when the Editorial Board decided to bring the issue to the faculty at an Institute faculty meeting.

We summarize below some details of the various stages of negotiations to make permanent and full time the position of the FNL Managing Editor. We have documented major points of concern to show our frustration with the procrastination of the administration.

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Summary of Negotiations

Our proposal was presented to President Hockfield on July 6. Several weeks later the President reactivated the former Graves Committee to examine the Newsletter’s request. The Committee’s report back to the President in early September essentially affirmed the value of the Newsletter. The FNL Editorial Board was not made aware of the Graves Committee report until early November.

In early November, meetings were held at the request of Faculty Chair Steve Lerman, who was trying to move the issue along. However, lacking authority in the matter, he removed himself from the process. Subsequently we were contacted by the Office of the Associate Provost, who expressed skepticism as to whether the proposal represented the views of the Editorial Board. The Editorial Board then met and formally voted: “To promote the Managing Editor of the MIT Faculty Newsletter to full-time Level 3 administrative staff, appropriate to the seniority and responsibility involved, and continuing to report to the Chair of the Faculty Newsletter Editorial Board.” We were then informed that Human Resources required a more detailed job description, which we duly provided.

In early January, Associate Provost Lorna Gibson called for a need to revise the job description once again. She told us that HR had reviewed the Managing Editor’s position the previous spring and found a part-time clerical appointment to be appropriate. However, we were unable to obtain a copy of the alleged evaluation or other confirmation. In fact, neither the FNL Chair nor any other member of the Board had been interviewed by HR or seen the “report.”

In mid-January, Associate Provost Gibson informed us that the decision on promotion was the sole purview of HR and promotion could not take place without extensive interviews of Editorial Board members. Given the existence of 93 issues of the Newsletter edited and published over more than 18 years as concrete evidence of work performed, this seemed one more means to delay action.

Three members of the FNL Editorial Board participated in separate interviews with Senior HR Officer Jennifer Walsh and her assistant. In late January, Ms. Walsh reported that they were “studying the issue.” Associate Provost Gibson and Ms. Walsh subsequently requested another meeting. In this meeting they raised allegations of a new issue – inadequate attribution by the Managing Editor in two minor Newsletter articles from 2002 and 2005. These articles carried information based on Institute news releases and were therefore similar to articles appearing in Tech Talk. Very soon thereafter, the FNL Managing Editor provided documentation showing that the HR allegations on inadequate attribution were completely groundless.

Frustrated with the situation, and in danger of losing our Managing Editor, later in January, 13 senior members of the faculty, many of whom are not on our Editorial Board, signed a resolution to be brought to the full faculty, requesting action in support of the Newsletter. (Signatories: Prof. Alice Amsden, Prof. John Belcher, Prof. Nazli Choucri, Prof. Nancy Hopkins, Prof. Nancy Kanwisher, Prof. Jonathan King, Prof. James L. Kirtley Jr., Prof. Stephen Lippard, Prof. James Orlin, Prof. Theodore Postol, Prof. Phillip Sharp, Prof. Stephen Tapscott, and Prof. James H. Williams, Jr.)

On the morning when the resolution was to be hand-delivered to Chair Lerman, e-mail arrived stating that the Managing Editor promotion would go forward. On February 21, David Lewis finally received a letter from the Provost confirming the promotion and the level of salary, although the latter was at a considerably lower level than we had requested and deemed appropriate.

Members of the Editorial Board considered requesting that an independent committee of faculty be convened to look further into this matter. However, rather than a faculty committee, we believe that it behooves the administration to investigate this process, and identify what went wrong.

Alice Amsden
John Belcher
Gordon Kaufman
Jonathan King
Stephen Lippard
Fred Moavenzadeh

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